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with Jesus

By David Werther.

John Mellencamp, Life Death Love and Freedom (Hear Music, 2008)

           In the space of two weeks John Mellencamp wrote a dark collection of folks songs, everyone of which is a winner. T-Bone Burnett contributed his considerable talents as a performer, playing electric and acoustic guitars, and 6-string bass. And, as a producer, he launched his technological breakthrough, CODE. Burnett had long been lamenting the poor sound quality of CDs: “It’s stepped down from tape to digital to compressed to digital, so people are now listening to a Xerox of a Polaroid of a photograph of a painting” ( This Mellencamp recording comes in a CD/DVD package (no extra cost for the high-quality CODE DVD) with a description of CODE as “. . . a new system that creates high-definition audio that is virtually indistinguishable from the original master tapes, but does not require any new or special equipment to play it.”

           The fresh sounding songs on Life Death Love and Freedom favor death and freedom. To get a flavor, consider some of the refrains.

Ain’t gonna need this body much longer
I put in ten million hours
Washed up and worn out for sure (“Don’t Need This Body”)

I feel like taking my life but I won’t
Too big a coward, can you get me back home again
Hey Jesus can you give me a ride back home (“A Ride Back Home”)

Oh oh oh Jena
Oh oh oh Jena
Take your nooses down (“Jena”)

           Mellencamp wrote Jena in response to an incident in Jena, Louisiana, where a black high school freshman asked if he could sit under an oak tree. The answer came in the form of nooses hung from the tree, a reply which led to predictable violence.

           There is at least one potential classic in the collection: “For the Children.” Mellencamp’s subdued admission that he has neither a guess nor an “uneducated thought” to offer as an answer to life’s meaning is poignant. Here, and throughout the collection, the pictures Mellencamp paints are are honest, vivid, and thought-provoking.

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