John Mellencamp – Sad Clowns and Hillbillies (2017) [Official Digital Download 24bit/96kHz]

John Mellencamp – Sad Clowns and Hillbillies (2017)
FLAC (tracks) 24-bit/96 kHz | Time – 46:59 minutes | 1,02 GB | Genre: Rock
Studio Master, Official Digital Download | Front Cover | © Republic

Sad Clowns & Hillbillies is the 23rd studio album by American singer-songwriter and musician John Mellencamp. It was released on April 28, 2017 by Republic Records.The album features significant contributions from Carlene Carter, who worked with Mellencamp on Ghost Brothers of Darkland County, his musical collaboration with Stephen King, and Ithaca, the movie he scored for ex-girlfriend Meg Ryan. Carter opened every show of Mellencamp’s 2015–2016 Plain Spoken Tour.

Sad Clowns & Hillbillies marks the first time in a decade that a John Mellencamp studio record finds him in the producer’s chair. It’s the first time ever that he’s shared billing on an album cover. Carlene Carter is a singer/songwriter and music biz veteran; the daughter of country music royalty — Carl Smith and June Carter Cash — making her the stepdaughter of Johnny. She and Mellencamp worked together on 2012’s Ghost Brothers of Darkland County, the musical theater project he scored for Stephen King; they collaborated further on the soundtrack for Ithaca — the “Sugar Hill Mountain” reprised here is one of a handful of excellent duets between them. Things don’t begin well, however. Mellencamp’s attempt at Mickey Newbury’s “Mobile Blue” (from his classic ‘Frisco Mabel Joy album) is utterly dull despite using a full band driven by Miriam Sturm’s excellent fiddling. “Battle of Angels” hearkens back to the songwriter’s Lonesome Jubilee/Big Daddy period, and works like a charm. It’s got everything: A killer hook, a poetic lyric, and a gritty vocal. Martina McBride appears as his duet partner on first single “Grandview,” a rocking paean to trailer parks — — though guest guitarist Izzy Stradlin almost steals the show with a greasy blues-rock shuffle and break. “Indigo Sunset,” the first duet between the headliners — is kicked off by Carter’s soulful country contralto. She frames the lyric’s haunted loneliness while Mellencamp’s grainy rasp — framed by B-3, mandolin, fiddle, and guitars — balances perfectly to bring it home. “All Night Talk Radio” is classic Mellencamp: Its dark vision is painted in compelling, ironic, and dark imagery packaged as in a taut, acoustic rocker. Morally, he should share the royalties for “You Are Blind” with Leonard Cohen’s estate: A careful listen reveals that the strategic manner of stacking images and metaphors to draw out the last syllables bears the unmistakable imprint of the late songwriter’s classic “Suzanne.” Carter’s soaring lead opening the duet of the rocking blues-gospel of “Damascus Road” is another set highlight. That theme also guides “My Soul’s Got Wings,” with Mellencamp’s melody and chart accompanying a Woody Guthrie lyric — Carter’s command of the country church vernacular (after all, she sang with her mom in the Carter Family) lights the fuse for Mellencamp — no stranger himself to rural Sunday services — and he brings it home. While the words in closer “An Easy Target” rank among Mellencamp’s most politically charged and socially arresting, his faux Tom Waits’ delivery blunts the tune’s impact a bit, but it’s too powerful to be completely buried under a stylistic mistake. While Sad Clowns & Hillbillies is a bit of a mixed bag, it’s better than all of his other records that bear that mark (Dance Naked, Whenever We Wanted, Rough Harvest, et. al). It puts all his strengths — excellent original songs, unforced arrangements, and (mostly) inspired performances — on full display. Well, almost. Because Carter’s dynamic presence here, and the pair’s unmistakable chemistry, lift this album above the ordinary. ~ Thom Jurek

01. Mobile Blue
02. Battle Of Angels
03. Grandview feat. Martina McBride
04. Indigo Sunset feat. Carlene Carter
05. What Kind Of Man Am I feat. Carlene Carter
06. All Night Talk Radio
07. Sugar Hill Mountain feat. Carlene Carter
08. You Are Blind
09. Damascus Road feat. Carlene Carter
10. Early Bird Cafe
11. Sad Clowns
12. My Soul’s Got Wings feat. Carlene Carter
13. Easy Target

John Mellencamp – vocals, guitars
Andy York – acoustic guitar, electric guitar
Mike Wanchic – acoustic guitar, electric guitar
John Gunnell – bass
Dane Clark – drums
Miriam Sturm – violin
Troye Kinnett – keyboards
Lily & Madeleine – background vocals