John Mellencamp - Plain Spoken (2014)
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Genre: Americana, Folk Rock, Heartland Rock | Label: Republic Records | # B0021723-02 | Time: 00:43:43
Plain Spoken is the first album from the Rock and Roll Hall of Famer since 2010 s critically acclaimed, No Better Than This which landed in the Top 10 of Billboard s Top 200 during release week and garnered the honor of becoming one of Rolling Stone s Best Albums of 2010. Grammy winning musician John Mellencamp has touched the heart and souls of music listeners and influenced American Culture with enduring songs, he is also one of the most successful live concert performers in the world. A man with a conscience, he used his visibility and influence to advocate an issue that hit close to home and became one of the founding members of Farm Aid, an organization that began in 1985 to raise awareness about the loss of family farm. The Farm Aid concerts have raised over $45 million to promote a resilient family farm system of agriculture.
This is arguably John Mellencamp's best album since his '80s heyday. It's basically an extension of the back porch folkiness of a song like Jackie Brown, or a song like Human Wheels with the drums and guitars turned down. You sense his heart is in this work. He's written one of his best batches of songs in a very long time. And, unlike a few of his recent albums, this one successfully cuts the difference between a certain simple audio verite and just enough adornment to best bring the songs to life. (To elaborate on that last point: His last few albums have all been in a more mature style, but in my opinion, they've been a bit studied and claustrophobic in their approach. This album is freed from any particular audio concept and is the better for it. I also think the songs here are, on the whole, stronger.)
Ultimately, there's a lot of simplicity here: John, mostly acoustic instruments, and few production tricks. You could imagine that John could sound exactly like this if he were playing on your back porch with a few of his friends. Plain Spoken is an apt title. (The one exception is the last track, Lawless Times, a bluesy toss off).
If, like a lot of people, you were a big fan of Mellencamp but lost interest when John seemed to lose focus, this might be the right moment, the right album, to get back on the bus. He's older, he's quieter, and he sings with a bit more gravel, but so, presumably, do those things apply to all of us.
This is Mellencamp more mature, but no less impressive than the Kid who kicked it up about Little Pink Houses way back when. He doesn't really rock here, but he's present and engaged and engaging. And that rocks a lot more.
Review by David Pearlman, Amazon.com
If ever there were a prototypical John Mellencamp title, it's Plain Spoken. Mellencamp has long striven for direct, forthright communication, so the title suits his overall aesthetic as well as this album in specific. His first album underneath a "lifetime" recording contract for Republic Records -- a deal that effectively amounts to his return to the Universal group -- this is also his first record since 2007's Freedom's Road not to be produced by T-Bone Burnett, but that titan of Americana has certainly left an imprint on the singer/songwriter. Like many Burnett productions, this trades in hushed authentic acoustica, but where Burnett often indulges aural impressionism -- or, in the case of 2010's No Better Than This, such quasi-stunts as mono mixes -- Mellencamp opts to revert to a streamlined version of the wide-ranging Heartland Rock of The Lonesome Jubilee. There are echoes of this 1987 masterwork on Plain Spoken but only in the sense that's where Mellencamp first delved into acoustic folk and country. Twenty seven years later, he's an older man in every sense: his voice sounds ravaged by cigarettes, he doesn't bother rocking at all (although he does play a bit of blues on "Lawless Times," a subdued shuffle that offers a welcome tonal tonic at the close), and he feels battered down by the passage of time. He's mourning the end of his marriage, he's pondering mortality, he's sour at the politicians and the bankers, and he's not so sure he has much to offer anybody else, either. If his bitterness is unavoidable in the lyrics or in his voice, his music softens his bite, turning these tunes into melancholy laments instead of invective, so there winds up being a bit of a needed cushion to Mellencamp's straight talk on Plain Spoken.
01. Troubled Man (04:14)
02. Sometimes There's God (04:34)
03. The Isolation Of Mister (05:34)
04. The Company Of Cowards (03:52)
05. Tears In Vain (03:53)
06. The Brass Ring (05:37)
07. Freedom Of Speech (03:52)
08. Blue Charlotte (04:40)
09. The Courtesy Of Kings (03:33)
10. Lawless Times (03:51)