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John Mellencamp - Trouble No More Print E-mail
Tuesday, 03 June 2003

John Mellencamp

Trouble No More
format: CD
label: Columbia Records
release year: 2003
performance: 9
sound 9
reviewed by: Dan MacIntosh

ImageJohn Mellencamp hasn’t added many new wrinkles to the lexicon of rock history over his extensive recording career: he’s clearly the product of his obvious influences. But that’s usually not a bad thing, since he’s always worn his inspirations well. He started as a glam boy, then became the pop rebel of “Jack And Diane,” before exploring they joys of roots rock in its multiple incarnations. Now, with Trouble No More, Mellencamp takes on the folk blues, which brings him all the way back to the very root of roots music. And, as you might expect, the singer sounds right at home when singing these raw and emotional songs.

The album opens with two straight blues tracks (“Trouble No More” and “Death Letter”), and it isn’t until “Teardrops Will Fall” -- with its electric guitar, fiddle, pedal steel and popping drums -- that Mellencamp begins to sound like he did back during his roots-iest “The Lonesome Jubilee” days. But for the most part, Mellencamp doesn’t sound much like his old self here, and shows off a slightly different side of his musical personality.

On Hoagy Carmichael’s “Baltimore Oriole,” Mellencamp is backed by tribal bass and bongo rhythms, and sings it just like Tom Waits might. His cover of Lucinda Williams “Lafayette” has a kind of Hispanic feel to it, while “Joliet Bound,” with its fiddle and acoustic guitar, applies a distinctly Cajun vibe. Then on “John The Revelator,” the echo-y electric guitar sound fills it with a Daniel Lanois-like swampy-ness. Mellencamp ends the album with “To Washington,” which – with its newly written lyrics – turns this old protest song into an up-to-the-minute anti-George Bush diatribe.

Sometimes albums of all-cover songs can be traced back to bad cases of writer’s block. But no such thing is implied here, since Mellencamp truly sounds like he’s singing these favorites as an act of love, rather than out of artistic desperation. He’s also not trying to reinvent himself as an interpreter of song. Instead, it’s as if he’s gathered up the songs that he both likes and sounds comfortable with, and then melded them into one enjoyable album.

It’s obvious from the anger expressed with the album closer, “To Washington,” that Mellencamp is none to happy with United States foreign policy these days. But instead of writing an album of strident protest songs, which he easily could have done, Mellencamp lets the pain-saturated lyrics of these standards make his points for him. “Trouble No More” is not about any end to man’s troubles; it’s about man’s constant troubles in this world.

Ironically, a blues singer’s pain has always been the audience’s gain. The very same thing can be said about John Mellencamp’s new recording.

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