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New Album, Box Set Keep John Mellencamp Busy

of the Oakland Press

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John Mellencamp is a “Small Town” guy with big plans this year.

Last month, the Indiana rocker released “On the Rural Route 7609,” a handsomely packaged four-CD retrospective that includes 12 unreleased tracks — including writing demos of “Jack and Diane,” “Authority Song” and “Cherry Bomb” as well as poetic readings of his lyrics by actress Joanne Woodward and by Cornell West. What it doesn’t have, by design, are many of Mellencamp’s biggest hits, such as “Hurts So Good,” “Paper in Fire” and “R.O.C.K. in the U.S.A.”

“I have no interest in going back and putting together a bunch of hits,” explains Mellencamp, 58. “I had this idea of discovery. I think all of those songs (on ‘On the Rural Route 7609’) were overlooked ... I thought this was just a good way to say, ‘OK, so this isn’t about hit records. This is about what the rest of these albums were about ... Here’s really what I do.’ ”

Mellencamp has been doing a lot more alongside the box set. He’ll release a new album of original material, “No Better Than This,” on Aug. 3; produced by Grammy Award-winner T-Bone Burnett, the stripped-down set features songs Mellencamp recorded while on tour during the summer of 2009 with a reel-to-reel recorded and a single microphone at historic locations such as Sun Studios in Memphis, Room 414 of the Gunter Hotel in San Antonio — where Robert Johnson made his first recordings in November 1936 — and in the First African Baptist Church in Savannah, Ga., the inaugural black church in America and a stop on the underground railroad during the Civil War.

Filmmaker Kurt Marcus documented the recording sessions for a movie that Mellencamp plans to use to open a run of theater shows that’s slated to begin in October.

Meanwhile, Mellencamp and Stephen King continue to work on their stage musical, “Ghost Brothers of Darkland County.” The two recently hired a new director, award-winning actress Liv Ullman, who plans to start revising the script with King in January and work through 2011 on the production. Meanwhile, Burnett has been recording an album of Mellencamp’s songs for the project with Kris Kristofferson, Rosanne Cash, Elvis Costello, Ryan Bingham and the Blasters’ Phil and Dave Alvin voicing the characters — but not Mellencamp.

“I got fired,” he says with a laugh. “Whenever I talk to T-Bone, I go, ‘Remember the time you fired me?’ He goes, ‘I didn’t fire you — you quit.’ I say, ‘No, you fired me, man. I remember.’ I’m spotty at best, I guess.”

John Mellencamp performs at 8 p.m. Thursday, July 15, in the Colosseum at Caesars Windsor, 377 Riverside Drive East. Tickets are $115.80, $93.20 and $70.60. Call 800-991-777 or visit www.caesarswindsor.com.

Web Site: www.caesarswindsor.com

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