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Interview:
Mellencamp's New Album Comes From "American Songbook Tradition"
 

By GARY GRAFF
Of the Oakland Press

» See more SOUND CHECK

John Mellencamp portrays his just-released new album, “Life, Death, Love and Freedom” as something of an accident.

“All of these songs were written in a 15-day period,” notes the Indiana rocker, who was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in March. “I had no intention of writing songs for a record. The songs just sort of happened.”

And while he’s known for a kind of irascible nature that’s reflected in the dark countenance of these 14 songs, Mellencamp contends that “one would be making an error to personalize these songs too much. These songs were written in the American Songbook tradition” of third-person and fictionalized scenarios.

Produced by T-Bone Burnett, “Life, Death, Love and Freedom” is Mellencamp’s 20th studio album and boasts a textured, austere sound that’s a far cry from the heartland anthems such as “Jack and Diane,” “Pink Houses” and “Small Town” that made him a star in the ’80s. Nevertheless, Mellencamp says that “all of these records are the same to me,” and that the new songs are simply about the people who were “suckin’ on chili dogs outside the Tastee Freeze” — just 26 years and a lot of hard times down the road.

“The songwriting all comes from the same place,” Mellencamp explains, “but it is how we choose to use the band that changes. I have been fortunate enough to go from being a young man to an old man.” He’s also smart enough to keep playing the old songs but, Mellencamp cautions, some of them might not sound exactly like when they were hits.

“You have to make it interesting for the guys in the band and myself,” he explains. “I don’t want to play ‘The Authority Song’ and have it sound liked it did in 1983. You can do a song a million different ways; as long as I keep the melody pretty close to the bone, it works.

“It kind of challenges the audience a little bit. But guys that I admire have always done that. I’ve seen Bob Dylan do that for a zillion years. I’ve seen Neil Young do it a zillion times. So knowing that and having the opportunity to do that myself, why wouldn’t I?”



John Mellencamp and Lucinda Williams perform at 7:30 p.m. Friday (July 18) at the DTE Energy Music Theatre, Sashabaw Road east of I-75, Independence Township. Tickets are $85 and $49.50 pavilion, $20 lawn. Call (248) 377-0100 or visit www. palacenet.com.

Web Site: www.palacenet.com

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