Freedom’s Road by John Mellencamp

Anyone surprised that rock star John Mellencamp’s new single, “Our Country,” is a country hit hasn’t been paying attention. Listen again to 1980s albums like The Lonesome Jubilee and Big Daddy, filled with keening fiddles and occupied with the rural concerns of his Indiana homeland, and you’ll wonder why they were ever classified as “rock” in the first place.

John’s hopeful populism and directness (both lyrical and musical) make him a better fit than ever for country radio right now—as does the presence of hot country quartet Little Big Town providing lush background vocals throughout his 18th album, Freedom’s Road.

The lyrics here aim high, reiterating American ideals while acknowledging the weaknesses that sometimes place those ideals out of reach. Sometimes plain-spokenness leads John to a clunker line, and Freedom’s Road lacks the sense of humor that used to help his social observations go down more easily. But when the album clicks—which is often—it’s a bracing reminder of why this country boy still matters.

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