"Freedom's Road" (Universal Republic)
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Lest Mellencamp's pickup truck pitchman role with "Our Country," a centerpiece of this album, makes you expect a collection of Red State anthems, fear not. Suffice it to say that noted lefty Joan Baez would not likely guest on such a set, as she does here on the racism lament "Jim Crow."
To be fair, while "Our Country" is no "This Land Is Your Land" (to which it so transparently aspires), it's also no "God Bless the USA" in the banality department. Fairness, in fact, is what this album is all about. Mellencamp is torn up over how torn up our country has become. At times his path is too consciously down the middle -- "I'm an American, and I respect your point of view," "freedom's road must be under construction" -- but his intentions are good.
And he does poke into the shadows with accounts of bigotry and dissension set in sometimes dense, minor-chorded Americana quilts. At times, the questioning tone, prodding guitars (ghostly '60s sounds from Mike Wanchic and Andy York) and somber fiddle (Miriam Sturm) match Mellencamp's peaks since his 1985 breakthrough "Scarecrow." Heck, even "Our Country" is catchy -- as anthems are meant to be.