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John Mellencamp: Plain Spoken

Conscious Americana from the former Cougar.

Now a long way from the booming rock anthems which once made him the relief-teacher Springsteen, John Mellencamp makes Leonard Cohen sound like Jessie J.

‘Anxiety and sorrow underneath my skin/Self-destruction and failure have beat my head in/I laughed out loud once – I won’t do that again,’ sighs this ‘troubled man’, speaking directly to the residual blue-collar everymen of Bruce’s parish. He’s been ploughing this downbeat furrow for some years, with T Bone Burnett producing his last two albums. This, his 22nd, is self-helmed, and launches a paradigm-shifting “lifetime” recording contract.

It’s a collection of shuffling, stripped-down country-blues arrangements (with plentiful fiddles), addressing big issues in intimate manner. There are social concerns, a moan about digital music theft, and a love song in which a character’s wife is dying. Mellencamp also faces the end of his own 18-year marriage in Tears In Vain.

You can’t deny his commitment, and if the music’s a bit uniform it’d sound great scoring a scene in Sons Of Anarchy.