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Review: John Mellencamp, "Freedom's Road"
Patriotism and love for America have always informed John
Mellencamp's music and progressive politics. His new set, "Freedom's
Road," is his most unabashedly American album yet.
Of course, there's nothing as powerful as "Scarecrow"
or "Pink Houses" here, but "Freedom's Road"
does contain some potent explorations into poverty, racism and
jingoism. His duet with legendary protest singer Joan Baez on
the impressive "Jim Crow" is as affecting as Mellencamp's
"Jackie Brown." It's a clear standout. Elsewhere,
Mellencamp offers a quiet sermon with "Rural Route,"
a haunting tune that gallops along at an intensifying pace.
But this is not the old-school John Mellencamp. Not by a long
shot. "The Americans" is a glossed-over, ready-for-a-truck-commercial
anthem. Its chorus is grueling. Sings Mellencamp, "I'm
an American/And I respect you/For your point of view."
Come on. Thankfully most of "Freedom's Road" is a
better written than that clumsy line--except for that other
ready-for-a-truck-commercial track, "Our Country,"
already featured in a GM truck commercial, naturally.
While "Freedom's Road" doesn't come close to the
powerful Americana Indiana's favorite son has delivered in the
past, it does provide enough firepower to remind fans that John
Mellencamp still has something important to say--even if it
sounds a little cheesy some of the time.
Review: The New Cars, "It's Alive"
by Don Zulaica
The New Cars may not have the original iconic voices of Ric
Ocasek or the late Benjamin Orr, but you'll still get from point
A to point B.
The bulk of "It's Alive" is an early concert performance
featuring the new lineup--vocalist Todd Rundgren, guitarist
Elliot Easton, keyboardist Greg Hawkes, bassist Kasim Sulton
and drummer Prairie Prince--with a few new songs in both live
and studio forms.
Truth be told, new frontman Rundgren adequately approximates
Ocasek's quirkiness, while his natural tenor is more reminiscent
of Orr. From the live show, after a bit of a nervous-butterfly
start with the ubiquitous "Just What I Needed," he
settles in and delivers perfectly good versions of "Let's
Go," "The Dangerous Type" and "Bye Bye Love."
Instrumentally, original members Easton and Hawkes own every
musical layer, and truly shine when adding vocal harmonies to
"Best Friend's Girl" and "Good Times Roll."
Utopia's Sulton and Tubes drummer Prince lay the foundation,
and Prince, in particular, plays spot-on David Robinson parts
The newer material feels like we never left the '80s, and the
backhanded humor of "Not Tonight" ("I'd like
to have a chance to treat you right / but not tonight")
emphasizes where much of the band's classic songwriting came
Not the Original McCoy, but definitely worthy wheels.