Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Scarecrow by John Mellencamp

John Mellencamp is a singer and writer from Bloomington, IN.

More info about him can be found here.

Scarecrow is his eighth album.

Mellencamp takes credit for creating the "no depression"/Americana genre with this album.  While this may or may not be true, it certainly serves a great testament to that type of alternative country genre.  And it boasts a few hits to boot.  I tend to see it as a document of the artist coming into his own after years of fighting with the industry to be his own person.

Mellencamp came out in the mid 70s and seemed to live in the shadows of that other working-class songwriter, Bruce Springsteen.  It's easy to dismiss Mellencamp as a poor man's Springsteen, but that's not entirely fair.  Springsteen occupies that tough Jersey spot, while Mellencamp represents the middle-class middle American heartland.  Scarecrow is the place where he takes that mantle and proudly displays it.  He'd garnered a few hits inthe early 80s, so he was probably awarded with some more creative freedom to make the kind of record he'd always wanted to.

Scarecrow can almost be described as a concept album.  All of the songs deal with small town, farm life, and family.  It's no surprise that Mellencamp helped organize the annual Farm Aid event to help small family farms.  It's a cause that he still proudly supports and lends his talents to.  The album's opener "Rain on the Scarecrow" could almost serve as its unofficial theme.  Anvil drums and ominous chords make this modern Woody Guthrie.

The album does boast several hits that you probably know.  Beside the title track, "Small Town" is well known with its instant classic chorus and steady back beat.  It's an anthem right along the lines of "Glory Days"...wait, there's that Springsteen comparison again.  Well, I like it better than "Glory Days," so there.  The kickoff and jangly guitars kick off "Lonely Ol' Night."  It's a working man's R.E.M.  And the final hit from the album is the totally dancable "R.O.C.K. in the U.S.A. (A Salute to 60s Rock)."  It's a toe-tapping barn burner.

That covers the hits, but the other songs are just as strong.  There's not one second of filler to be found here.  The rest tell tales of life, love, and family.  Each one is fleshed out and fully realized only rounded out by a big rock sound of guitars, bass, and drums.  Most of them are worthy of shaking your ass to the strong beats.  It's dance music!  There is a unifying concept that drives the entire record making it a total listening experience.

I can't quite qualify it as the invention of a genre, but it is certainly would do to represent a sound and theme.  If you close your eyes, you can almost see the fields and smell the inside of an old pick up truck. 


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