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.
“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 rain
Coming down on my shoulders A life full of rain Here in a room where no one cares I’m not wanted here I got no place to go I’ve found all is empty In a life full of rain
Your sky is never clear
And you can hear that thunder You know that means trouble The kind of trouble that won’t disappear So you ask for forgiveness You know there’s none coming A life full of rain And the forecast is severe
The gravel roads
That lie stretched out before you They are the roads that you’ve gone down before And goddamn it, you didn’t ask You didn’t ask to come here So you curse your own mother For the day that you were born
It’s all been a trick
A little sleight of hand Like the clown in the circus Who tells a story but no one understands So you disappear into the solitude And you go into the shadows Of a life full of rain With no dry spot to stand
There’s a blue-eyed world
That said it once loved you But that was in your youth Such a long, long time ago As the days went by With your pride walking beside you Pride you could not swallow And refused to let go
So here you are
Stuck in a world of your own ego A world where there’s no rumors Of other lost souls Who’ve turned into ghosts And float sadly through the evening And you thought you were exempt From a life full of rain A life full of rain That’s coming down on your shoulders
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 Legendary singer songwriter John Mellencamp