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John Mellencamp: Sad Clowns & Hillbillies (2017)

John Mellencamp is back with his 23rd studio album, Sad Clowns and Hillbillies. The album marks Mellencamp’s return behind the boards as the album’s producer in more than a decade. Sad Clowns also distinguishes itself as a album where he has shared a billing on an album cover and this is with veteran singer, songwriter Carlene Carter. In case the name doesn’t sound familiar, she’s Jonny Cash’s step daughter and she shares her soulful vocals on five of the album’s 13 tracks.

With Sad Clowns, Mellancamp once again continues his musical journey into the raw blues/folk/country genres that have been prevalent in his recordings since 2008’s Life, Death, Love and Freedom. As much as I enjoy John Mellencamp however, I thought that his last few albums have been a little too slow moving, and have had a somewhat difficult time getting fully immersed into them. Thankfully, Sad Clowns has for the most part avoided that pitfall with songs like, Battle of Angels, Grandview, Damascus Road & All Night Talk Radio. In fact, they easily rank up there with some of best songs from his Big Daddy, Lonesome Jubilee and Human Wheels era.

The only issue I have with this album, is that it sounds a little uneven at times. Even though all the songs are great, he’s brought in material from various other projects and it really takes away from the continuity of the album. There are songs from Ghost Brother of Dark Country; a collaboration with Stephen King and Ithaca, a movie he scored for former girlfriend, Meg Ryan.

I believe that as good as Mellencamp is as a producer; in my view, he’s lost some of his objectivity and really didn’t see the big picture with what he wanted to make.

Now, if you haven’t picked up a Mellencamp album in a while, I think Sad Clowns is a good place to start. Just be warned, if you’re looking for another Jack and Diane or Authority Song, you may no doubt be disappointed with this latest offering.

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