Review: John Mellencamp 1978- 2012, Box Set – Americana in its Purest Form

Americana music is taking the world by storm. Everyone from hipsters to hip hopers are dipping their toes in the cool waters of Nashville’s biggest secret. So what is Americana? In a nutshell it is Nashville, Music City USA has always had a certain flavor to the music that pours out of the doors of the Broadway barrooms and dives. This hodge-podge of country, rock, folk, funk, R&B and gospel has been a Nashville staple for years. Artist like Emmylou Harris, The Allman Brothers Band and John Hiatt have been incorporating these styles for years. Strangely enough, the one artist that has reached superstardom with almost 4 decades of rocking the Americana style is not from Nashville but from Seymour, Indiana. That artist is John Mellencamp.

I have always been a John Mellencamp fan, his songwriting is crisp and inspiring. In the tradition of Woody Guthrie, Mellencamp is an American songwriter and storyteller. You can hear John Mellencamp’s love for everything America as his lyrics paint a picture of the greatness of our nation. However, all of Mellencamp’s lyrics are not about ” Suckin’ on chili dogs outside the tastee freeze”. John Mellencamp is a realist and is not afraid to also show the warts and scars that our country has. What makes this refreshing is Mellencamp seems to do this as an bipartisan observer and storyteller not a political commentator.

It is not only the lyrics that make John Mellencamp such an incredible artist, the music also is in a class of its own. John Mellencamp broke onto the scene in 1977, just as punk rock was getting a stranglehold on mainstream music and heavy metal was ripping up the airways. Not a slave to trends John kept to his roots and served up some of the best straightforward rock the world has ever heard.

I was fortunate to get an advance review copy of John Mellencamp 1978- 2012, a massive, career-spanning box. Even as a fan of John Mellencamp, I must say my knowledge of his music was limited to some of his earlier albums and heavy rotation radio hits. This was my first chance to deep dive into the catalog of this great artist.

I was familiar with a lot of the catalog but over the past ten or so years I have wandered away from radio for other music mediums and there is a big part of John Mellencamp’s music I have unfortunately missed.

The discography has every flavor of music you could imagine. The disco driven “Miami” from self-titled “John Cougar” disk from 1979 is a cool throwback. It is contradictory of the southern rock anthem “Sweet Evening Breeze” from the 1993 release “Human Wheels”, with its driving guitars and haunting vocals.  The following tune “French Shoes” has almost a T-Bone Burnett vibe to it.

The title track from the 2006 release “Freedom Road” has an outlaw country feel that would make Waylon smile with approval. Still not eclectic enough for you? Check out the title tune from the 2001 disk “Cuttin’ Heads”. This is an acid jazz, gospel drenched, hip-hop song that could easily hold its own on urban radio. Bouncing back to the 1994 release “Dance Naked” the song “Too Much To Think About” is very reminiscing of Paul Westerberg, early Elvis Costello or the Replacements. This is Americana in its purest form.

The collection of course has all of your favorite hits, “Pink Houses”, “Crumblin’ Down”, “Jackie Brown” and of course the rocking “Authority Song” are among the throngs of 10 ten hits John Mellencamp has produced. This is a great Christmas present for the John Mellencamp fan on your Christmas list or for any fan of Americana music. John Mellencamp 1978- 2012, a massive, career-spanning box set will be in stores December 10, 2013