Rural Route: Memorable Song #9 for 2007
First Appeared in The Music Box, March 2007, Volume 14, #3
Written by John Metzger
One of the major issues surrounding Freedomís Road, the latest outing from John Mellencamp, is its timing. If only he had completed the set a year earlier, its strongest statements not only would have stirred more controversy, but he also would have been heralded in some camps for his bold and daring words. In the wake of countless other socio-political tirades as well as a countrywide shift in how President Bushís policies are viewed, however, Freedomís Road sounds a little like a tame afterthought.
Mellencamp clearly has his heart in the right place. Nevertheless, his songs still falter whenever he caters to the populist-leaning brigade of touchy-feely, flag-waving Democrats. Lyrics like "Iím an American/I respect you and your point of view" and "Thank God for forgiveness/I donít know how else we could get along" are as simplistic and awkward as Toby Keithís "Youíll be sorry that you messed with the U.S. of A./íCause weíll put a boot in your ass/Itís the American way." The only difference is Mellencampís political perspective.
Fortunately, this tells only part of the tale. The other side of Freedomís Road finds Mellencamp sounding better than ever. For starters, he and his band holed up in his home recording studio, and together, they concocted one of the more durable efforts in his canon. Clinging to a í60s motif that is well suited to his message, the songs shift from the headiness of Neil Young to the swagger of the Rolling Stones and from the swampiness of Creedence Clearwater Revival to the blues-y intonations of The Animals. The jingle-jangle guitars of The Byrds lap at the edge of nearly every tune, and the gospel-imbued harmonies provided by Little Big Town further support his anthems for the common man.
Better still, when Mellencamp does address a topic in more than just a superficial fashion, the results are quite moving. Ghost Towns along the Highway, for example, is a vivid depiction of the repercussions of outsourcing in the new global economy; sung as a duet with Joan Baez, Jim Crow is a haunting lament about the continued prevalence of racism; and Rodeo Clown is a scathing, bilious indictment of the Bush administration. Even Our Country proves to be better than its usage as a commercial jingle otherwise might imply. The best track on Freedomís Road, however, is Rural Route. Moving beyond politics and taking the country-blues refrains of Trouble No More to heart, Mellencamp relays the chilling tale of a 5th-grade girl who was abducted, raped, and murdered near his parentsí home in Indiana. Itís certainly not an easy song to digest, but it so potently exposes the seedy underbelly of American life that one wishes Mellencamp would take the road less traveled a tad more often. Ĺ
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1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
Copyright © 2007 The Music Box