"I am an American from the Midwest," John Mellencamp sings on "The Americans," the third track on his new disc, Freedoms Road. Mellencamp has told us as much before, on albums such as Scarecrow (1985) and Lonesome Jubilee (1987). Freedoms Road brings him back to part of America he knows well, and to the people who live there. Mellencamp hasnt been coasting artistically since his commercial peak in the late '80s to mid-'90s, but even by his standards Freedom Road contains some of his strongest storytelling in years. He sings guardedly about pulling hope out of despair on "Someday," and on "Jim Crow" he tackles the complexities of race in the US.
Joan Baez duets with Mellencamp on "Jim Crow," and members of the popular country band Little Big Town provide backup vocals throughout the disc. Otherwise, Mellencamps stalwart band backs him with the taste and versatility that have long made his records such an enjoyable listen. They can play anything he throws at them. Some people shrug the singer off as too commercial, and it is true that he knows how to write hits. But he also knows how to construct a good record, and its the small touches, such as the reverb-filled guitar lines in "My Aeroplane," that make his songs so distinctive.
Freedoms Road sounds natural, almost vintage, and I dont hear the compression that mars so many current pop discs. Its an honest recording for a heartfelt CD.
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