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John Mellencamp - Strictly a One-Eyed Jack Music Album Reviews

John Mellencamp - Strictly a One-Eyed Jack Music Album Reviews
Featuring several collaborations with Bruce Springsteen, the self-produced new album from the 70-year-old songwriter is overwhelmingly bleak—but its best moments prove he can still surprise us.

Aself-described Midwestern socialist who campaigned for Bloomberg. A songwriter beloved by Republicans, who wrote multiple radio anthems criticizing the Republican party. A commercial-soundtracking 1980s icon who has collaborated on art shows with Miles Davis and Southern gothic musicals with Stephen King. John Mellencamp has always thrived in contradictions, and he makes his best music when he seems just out of step with the mainstream. In the mid-’80s, Mellencamp just happened to be what the mainstream wanted: a non-coastal elitist attacking Reagan-era greed while landing on every Midwesterner’s lake mixtape during heartland rock’s golden age. 1985’s Scarecrow, his commercial and critical peak, was the scruffy foil to the blockbuster sheen of Bruce Springsteen’s Born in the U.S.A. If Springsteen’s record felt like the dramatic, high-stakes movie version of small-town struggles, listening to Mellencamp was more like the documentary: an earthy and straightforward snapshot of well-meaning people just trying to get through another long day.

Written around the time that he co-founded Farm Aid with Willie Nelson and Neil Young, Mellencamp’s work during this period marked a shift from his role as Seymour, Indiana’s biggest pop star to a heartland spokesperson, someone who paid more attention to John Steinbeck and Woody Guthrie than to his peers on the charts. In recent years, he can still find his way around a singalong chorus, but beginning with 2008’s T-Bone Burnett collaboration Life, Death, Love and Freedom, Mellencamp has settled into a comfortable zone of traditional rock’n’roll, folk, and blues.

Strictly a One-Eyed Jack, his self-produced 25th album, continues Mellencamp’s journey through the past, this time offering a stark take on Americana that harkens to darker times before the 70-year-old songwriter was born: less late-career depression and more Great Depression. Indeed, many of these songs sound like they could have been written and performed before World War II. Take the opener, “I Always Lie to Strangers.” Singing in a voice as old as the desert, Mellencamp is accompanied by melancholy touches of violin, piano, and upright bass, as he laments that no, the church bells will not chime for thee. As with many songs on the first half of the record, Mellencamp’s cigarette growl eerily evokes that of Tom Waits. But these songs lack Waits’ warmth and humor—the signs of a performer who knows he’s putting on a show. This is the most direct and confident that Mellencamp has sounded in years, and yet, he also sounds like he’d rather be anywhere else, with his lyrics acting as lists of grievances against modern society. Any light in the darkness comes from Mellencamp’s excellent backing band, especially Troye Kinnett’s accordion and organ playing.

With a greater sense of momentum, the back half of the record acts as a rescue mission. This is where Springsteen shows up, providing welcome vocal harmonies on the electric “Did You Say Such a Thing,” climactic guitar solos on album closer “A Life Full of Rain,” and lead vocals on the main attraction, “Wasted Days.” When Mellencamp asks “How many days are lost in vain,” he sounds like someone who’s seen too much and little change; Springsteen counters with “How much sorrow is there left to climb,” summoning his belief that we’re all still capable of transcending our circumstance. Their harmonies in the chorus—“We watch our lives just fade away”—illustrate their common ground: Life is hard, and it’s worth it. It’s a touching moment, and it offers a portrait of Mellencamp’s gift for simple, intuitive melody and songwriting that has proven influential on a new generation of heartland-inspired rockers like the War on Drugs and Waxahatchee.

While the rest of the record settles into a mid-tempo dirge, there are several other surprising highlights to justify a new Mellencamp album. The upbeat campfire feeling of "Chasing Rainbows" is a welcome change of pace on such a dark record, and “Lie to Me” has the potent riffs and keys of a long-lost Exile on Main St. demo. Mellencamp’s career is dotted with flawed but lovable albums, and this one lacks the consistency of more nuanced late-career gems like Life, Death, Love and Freedom or 2010’s No Better Than This. Despite the overt bleakness, Strictly a One-Eyed Jack shines when Mellencamp invites other people into his world—proof that he can still surprise us this deep into his career.

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About Wanni Arachchige Udara Madusanka Perera

Hey, I'm Perera! I will try to give you technology reviews(mobile,gadgets,smart watch & other technology things), Automobiles, News and entertainment for built up your knowledge.
John Mellencamp - Strictly a One-Eyed Jack Music Album Reviews John Mellencamp - Strictly a One-Eyed Jack Music Album Reviews Reviewed by Wanni Arachchige Udara Madusanka Perera on Tuesday, February 01, 2022 Rating: 5

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