John Mellencamp has spent a lot of time defining and redefining himself. He had gone from John Cougar (an unwelcome transformation with Mellencamp) to a hits machine (American Fool, Uh-Huh), to a true-blue Americana heartland artist who wrote songs of the comforts of a small town (“Small Town,” “…I can breathe in a small town.”), the death of farmland in middle America (“Rain on the Scarecrow”), and American rock n roll (R.O.C.K. in the USA), all found on the classic Scarecrow album. That was quickly followed by more America-themed music on the excellent The Lonesome Jubilee, with an overview of a disappearing culture and 2 more Top10 hits (“Paper in Fire” and “Cherrybomb”). Since then, John Mellencamp has sung about the passion for his land, a spot he feels most comfortable in.
On his newest album, Freedom’s Road, he continues his streak of Americana themed music with 9 songs that, although do not replicate the intensity of his previous work (Scarecrow/The Lonesome Jubilee) it is still in the groove of what elevated him to his highest level of respect, something that John Mellencamp spent years striving to achieve.
Freedom’s Road’s songs are vintage Mellencamp, strongly recognizable in songs like “The Americans,” a song of loyalty and pride, and the title song, “Freedom’s Road.” However, it is songs like “Forgiveness,” and the opening track, “Someday” that set the album apart, not only musically but also in a maturity that one can follow in Mellencamp’s words throughout his career to this album. It is the growth of a man whose beliefs and convictions make up the songs that he writes.
On “Jim Crow,” he is joined by Joan Baez on a song about our race issues. On “Our Country,” he once again gives his words attention to his patriotism, an injection that all of America can use right now. All in all, Freedom’s Road is an album not only of America and feelings towards it but also a deep look into the problems that it still possesses. Despite the problems, America is still America, a land of ideals and a dogged hope. Our governments may fail, our livelihoods yanked away, and our potentials artificially dampened but, as a proud people, the push is toward “finding a way.”
Freedom’s Road is easily John Mellencamp’s best album since The Lonesome Jubilee, lyrically and musically. Let me be the first to say…”Thanks, Mr Mellencamp, we can use this album right now.”
John Mellencamp has my full respect.