1. (tie) John Mellencamp – Strictly a One-Eyed Jack

I finally gave into instinct and decided I had three records I could not choose between for number one. So, here is the first of my number ones for the year.

First forgive me of my nostalgia here. Mellencamp was my Springsteen growing up. He was midwest, The Boss was east coast. Mellencamp’s Rain On The Scarecrow remains in my top ten albums of all time and it will never leave. Maybe I will do a post on that record someday.

Yet, even in my nostalgia and affinity for John, he really has dropped two of his best albums in the last five years. In 2017 he dropped Sad Clowns and Hillbillies. A poignant americana response to the the haviness that politics had put into the air. 

The song, Easy Target”, off that album still wrecks me

I love this year’s Strictly a One-Eyed Jack. We don’t really have radio friendly rock like we did back in the 80s and 90s when Mellencamp was at his peak. Think, “Jack & Diane”, “Pink Houses”, “Hurts So Good”, “Small Town”, Cherry Bomb”, “Lonely Ol’ Night”. I really think that this is the kind of record that would’ve dropped a couple hits back in the day. They don’t sound dated. They just sound great. Radio friendly.

John Mellencamp is Compellingly Cranky on ‘Strictly a One-Eyed Jack’

“We watch our lives just fade away,” John Mellencamp sings on Strictly a One-Eyed Jack, his 25th studio album. The grim honesty of the sentiment is striking, almost as striking as the forbiddingly rugged croak of his voice, which now approaches Bob Dylan and Tom Waits territory in its rangy, weathered gravitas.

His voice has taken a toll to smoking but,

“When we were making this record, it was like, ‘John, your voice has changed so much since you started.’ And I said, ‘Well, the cigarettes are starting to pay off.’ And I was happy when I heard my sing ‘Gone So Soon,’ that I sounded like Louis Armstrong.” – iheart radio interview

Again, every time I listen to this record I feel like I am listening to stuff he has put our before. Not because it sounds like stuff he has done, but the production is tight, reminiscient of his heyday. Springsteen subtly guests on a couple of tracks. The Mellencamp violin is on full display on some songs. One thing Sad Clowns and Hillbillies did is that is played out super stripped down. I loved that approach. But, Strictly A One-Eyed Jack is more musically robust. Not full blown rockers, but the organ, the violin, building piano, the full band feel, etc. The most complete Mellencamp record in years. 

The swan song track “A Life Full Of Rain” is iconic. I mean, these lyrics, wow.

A life full of rainComing down on my shouldersA life full of rainHere in a room where no one caresI’m not wanted hereI got no place to goI’ve found all is emptyIn a life full of rain
Your sky is never clearAnd you can hear that thunderYou know that means troubleThe kind of trouble that won’t disappearSo you ask for forgivenessYou know there’s none comingA life full of rainAnd the forecast is severe
The gravel roadsThat lie stretched out before youThey are the roads that you’ve gone down beforeAnd goddamn it, you didn’t askYou didn’t ask to come hereSo you curse your own motherFor the day that you were born
It’s all been a trickA little sleight of handLike the clown in the circusWho tells a story but no one understandsSo you disappear into the solitudeAnd you go into the shadowsOf a life full of rainWith no dry spot to stand
There’s a blue-eyed worldThat said it once loved youBut that was in your youthSuch a long, long time agoAs the days went byWith your pride walking beside youPride you could not swallowAnd refused to let go
So here you areStuck in a world of your own egoA world where there’s no rumorsOf other lost soulsWho’ve turned into ghostsAnd float sadly through the eveningAnd you thought you were exemptFrom a life full of rainA life full of rainThat’s coming down on your shoulders

John Mellencamp: Strictly a One-Eyed Jack

A self-described Midwestern socialist who campaigned for Bloomberg. A songwriter beloved by Republicans, who wrote multiple radio anthems criticizing the Republican party. A commercial-soundtracking 1980s icon who has collaborated on art shows with Miles Davis and Southern gothic musicals with Stephen King.

Official Website of John Mellencamp | John Mellencamp

Official website of Legendary singer songwriter John Mellencamp

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