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John Mellencamp Tag

 Circa-1982 “John Cougar” once again be takin' your advice queries on matters of flesh, personal relationships, career, and metaphysics. (Read the first installment here.) Dear John Cougar: My best friend pranked me really good. I want to get him back. Any fun—but harmless—suggestions? Is your best friend Bob

Heading towards the 30th anniversary of his professional recording debut, Bruce Hornsby shows no signs of slowing down. In fact, the piano-wielding Grammy Award winning singer/songwriter is making arguably some of his finest work here in the present day, as exhibited on his two most recent solo studio releases, Halcyon Days (2004) and Levitate (2009). In the midst of those activities, Hornsby made a jazz record with Christian McBride and Jack DeJohnette, spent some time pickin’ on bluegrass with his longtime friend Ricky Skaggs and summarized his career to date with an eclectic box set release Intersections (2006) that mixed deep cuts with his more familiar hits in a form that often transmogrified them beyond recognition.

Somewhere in between expanding his discography with the above releases, Hornsby found time to put together his very first musical, cryptically titled SCKBSTD, a project that he spent several years working on with longtime collaborator Chip DeMatteo prior to eventually debuting the work this past January in Norfolk, VA.

With SCKBSTD officially submitted for public approval and feedback (and one should note that the audience approved), Hornsby has turned his attentions at least briefly back to his main gig of making music and with the upcoming Bride of the Noisemakers live release [which will initially be available as an Amazon exclusive in May with a general release following in June], Hornsby takes a moment to recap where things are at. Since his initial live release Here Come The Noisemakers was released in 2000, Hornsby and his band of Noisemakers (an appropriate band name for Hornsby’s longtime musical cohorts) have continued to refine a live show that was already quite epic at the time Noisemakers was recorded.

In fact, Bride shows how far Hornsby and the Noisemakers have come in the past 10 years; Bride plays like a mixtape for the diehards, loaded with nearly three hours of deep tracks, newer songs and relative rarities. While the Noisemakers live release occasionally felt a bit premature at points, with moments like the glorious “Fortunate Son/Comfortably Numb” segue not yet realized, Bride gets it right, first and foremost with that hallucinogenic Hornsby/Floyd mashup finally present and accounted for.

Besides “Fortunate Son,” you won’t find a lot of repeats and there are even fewer of the expected hits, which if you know what Hornsby’s about, this part will make perfect sense. In their place are some of the most definitive versions of many of the greatest album tracks from Hornsby’s catalog. No matter how many bootlegs you have (speaking from personal experience), the versions of “Resting Place,” “Dreamland” “Country Doctor” and the previously mentioned “Fortunate Son” on Bride of the Noisemakers (and I’m only naming a few of many highlights) will lift you up to new and higher places.

In a world of entertainment constantly wrestling for your dollars, the Bride of the Noisemakers release from Bruce Hornsby is worth every last cent and then some. It’s a mighty fine prelude to this summer’s dream pairing of Bruce Hornsby and the Noisemakers, who will share the stage with longtime friends Bela Fleck and the Flecktones. I had the chance to talk with Bruce earlier this week to find out what we all can look forward to.

There was a central theme to the work of artist John Mark Heard, and it wasn’t the one most people expected. Sure, he was a part of the CCM community, not only as a performer but an in-demand producer, but that was only a portion of his story. The people with whom he worked over the years, up to his sudden death in 1992, knew him to be a meticulous wordsmith, a consummate musician, and wise enough to keep either skill from ruining a good song. That sense of knowing when to put away fussiness and perfectionism was not lost on the likes of T Bone Burnett, Bruce Cockburn, Victoria Williams, Buddy & Julie Miller, Sam Phillips, and so many others. When the CCM labels shunned Bill Mallonee’s Vigilantes of Love because of his frank and (in this arena) shocking language, Heard championed him, to my knowledge never advising him to change a thing. The central theme of Mark Heard’s music was an exhortation to keep the heart prepared for the greatness to come, but also celebrate what’s here right now, no matter how tattered it might appear.

And so it is that I’m presenting this under the Dw. Dunphy On banner versus an honest-to-goodness Popdose Guide, mainly because there’s so much of Heard’s work that cannot be accessed legally, so much more that can but is currently not in the proper hands, and my ability to provide a truly complete retrospective is hampered. I could have tossed out the attempt and moved on to another artist, or I could follow the man’s lead and celebrate that which is available, all in hopes that a more thorough version can one day exist. So, without further delay, here is the music of Mark Heard, as best as I know it.

51uKjWuDyzL._SCLZZZZZZZ_[1]Mention the name Meshell Ndegeocello to the average music fan and you’ll likely receive a “huh?” in response. There may be a handful of people who remember her from her brief brush with MTV fame in the mid ’90s, thanks to the hit single “If That’s Your Boyfriend (He Wasn’t Last Night)” and her presence on John Mellencamp’s Top 10 cover of Van Morrison’s “Wild Night.” The average music fan would probably conclude that Meshell was merely a blip on the pop music radar.

The average music fan would be wrong.

However, despite never achieving (or actively courting) mainstream success, Meshell has built up a rabid and well-deserved cult following in the 16 years since her Grammy-nominated debut, Plantation Lullabies, the album that virtually kicked off the “neo-soul” movement that spawned D’Angelo, Maxwell and Erykah Badu, among others. In that time, the singer/songwriter/bassist/bandleader/rapper/poet has become her generation’s answer to Prince (although thankfully releasing albums at a more leisurely pace). Criss-crossing genres with ease, taking unflinching looks at religion and racial and sexual politics while also bringing incredible musicianship to everything she touches, Meshell just might be the most overlooked and underrated artist — in any musical genre — of the past 20 years.

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Bad news — my girlfriend, Aimiee, and I are still on that steamship we boarded in China two weeks ago. You know the phrase “slow boat to China”? Well, it turns out the boats from China aren’t any faster. Internet service is spotty here at sea, not to mention it feels like there are always a billion people waiting in line behind me to use the ship’s one public computer, so publishing a new column last week became impossible. But during my five allotted minutes on the computer last Saturday, I read that movie star Matthew McConaughey was appearing on CNN’s House Call to discuss parenting with the show’s host, Dr. Sanjay Gupta. Matthew’s been a father for less than two months, so if CNN’s treating him like an authority on the subject he must really know his stuff!

I figured Matthew must know a lot about all kinds of stuff and therefore would enjoy an online forum in which to discuss his various interests and philosophies, so I got in touch with his agent, and the next day I received an e-mail from Matthew himself: “One question, Cassanova — would you like salt with that ‘rita?” I thought, “He’s going to write a no-holds-barred political column. Fantastic!” But then I started to wonder if he was going to send me an actual margarita in the mail. Either way, I was excited.

So, without further ado, here’s guest columnist Matthew McConaughey …

Hey. How y’all doin’? Everybody have a good summer? Hope so. Hard to believe it’s almost over. I’m like, “Whoa, summer, you leavin’ already? You just got here. Sit down and stay a while. Have some guac. Lemme get you a Corona.”

Y’all ever do that? Talk to inanimate objects? Or seasons, or feelings? I do that a lot. Keeps me one with nature and the infinite, which is important, because we’re all gonna be dust in the wind one day.

I’m not tryin’ to be a downer or nothing, but it’s true — make the most of what you have right now, brothers and sisters, and just keep livin’. That’s my motto, anyway. (It’s also the name of my production company, which means it’s a copyrighted motto. So do as I say, but don’t ever say it yourself. ‘Preciate it.)

Livin’ isn’t as carefree as it used to be, though. I’m a daddy now, and that’s a full-time J-O-B. Just ask my son’s nanny. Hahaha!

Naw, I’m just playin’ with you. Well, sorta — Levi does have a nanny, but she’s only on call 16 hours a day. But she lives in the guest house, so it’s good she’s close by whenever my girlfriend, Camila, and I are sunbathin’ and need someone to reapply Levi’s tannin’ lotion. It’s never too early to start worshippin’ the sun, y’all.

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I’m not sure when my brother, Budd, brought home his copy of John (then) Cougar Mellencamp’s Uh Huh. The cassette showed up in the basement one summer, a year or so after its release. Like most of America, I was a big fan of “Pink Houses,” and I was thrilled that I now had a copy of it and his other big hits from that album, “Crumblin’ Down” and “The Authority Song.” At this point in his career, Mellencamp was establishing himself as a “legitimate” artist, hence the use of his real name (the record label wouldn’t allow him to ditch the “Cougar” until years later, for fear record buyers might get confused….huh?) In addition, there was the radio staple (at least in Cleveland), “Play Guitar,” on Side Two, which borrowed heavily from Them’s “Gloria” (Mellencamp often slipped the “G-L-O-R-I-A’s” into his concerts during that number).

The rest of Uh Huh is filled with more of the same ’60s garage band rock that Mellencamp still champions, as well as one of Budd’s favorite tunes, the John Prine co-penned “Jackie-O.” As a drummer, listening to the masterful Kenny Aronoff wail on this album was one of the greatest pleasures of my adolescence. You don’t even have to be a drummer to appreciate someone who plays so damn well — Aronoff is truly one of rock’s best drummers, and helped define Mellencamp’s sound. Another thrill was hearing one of the band members mutter, “Hey, what the fuck” at the start of the second to last song on the LP, “Lovin’ Mother for Ya.” That song, with its obscenity, driving beat and timbales (you have love the timbales) gave me good reason to jam each and every time it came on. And having wailed on my own drums to “Lovin’ Mother for Ya,” I’d cool down and unwind to what would become one of my favorite basement songs: the last track on Uh Huh, “Golden Gates.”

For anyone who grew up in the Midwest, John Cougar speaks our language. We’ve stuck with him through the early years on to the Farm Aid thing through to his modern-day output.

For those keeping score, he went from Johnny Cougar to John Cougar to John Cougar Mellencamp and then, simply, “John Mellencamp.” (Trivia: Lou Reed referred to him as “my painter friend Donald” on New York.) He’s put us through more name changes than The Artist formerly known as “the artist formerly known as Prince.” It all stemmed from his first manager giving him a rock-star identity in the 1970s, with which he landed a couple formulaic hits. Later, Cougar-Mellencamp took control of his own career and morphed into a real musician worthy of the Rock Hall.

Because of the name changes, it was sometimes hard to find his records (under the Ms? The Cs?) but once we did there was always a bushel of corn-fed, no-bull rock-n-roll to be found between them thar grooves. While Cougar-Mellencamp might have made his name a moving target, there was never any doubt where the needle of his rock compass pointed—straight toward Detroit, where rock and soul fused to make crashy rhythms for which you had no choice but to lace up your dancin’ shoes.

Shucks, in “R.O.C.K. in the U.S.A.,” the litany of artists he names in tribute includes a peck of Dee-troit singers: Jackie Wilson, Mitch Ryder, spotlight on Martha Reeves and don’t forget James Brown! (OK, The Godfather of Soul wasn’t Detroit but don’t forget a Cincinnati label first put him on the map, and that town lies only about 40 miles east of Mellencamp’s hometown of Seymour, Ind.).

In fact, one could make the argument that he is the modern-day fulfillment of what Mitch Ryder could have become if he hadn’t disbanded the Detroit Wheels and gone Vegas—in the most putrid, pejorative sense of the word—right at the peak of his career. They certainly both were charismatic white singers from the Midwest with a deep respect for black performers. Cougar-Mellencamp did have a country bent to his music that Ryder didn’t circa his Detroit Wheels period, and a conscience that still gets him mocked by certain high-fallutin’ East- and West-coasters who think they’re the bee’s knees and just can’t get his quaint-liberal schtick because they never baled no hay, worked a day in a factory, or used a “buy here-pay here” used-car lot.

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A guest DJ in the house! It’s none other than Popdose’s very own Scott Malchus, who is here to mix it up with six FRICKIN’ AWESOME DRUMMERS! What I love about this mix is that Scott didn’t go for the obvious choices when it comes to great drummers. Instead, he found some gems that highlight the spice and groove great drummers add to a song. I think you’ll hear what I’m talking about when you download the mix and read along with Scott’s notes.

Party on …

DOWNLOAD HERE

Act I: Johnny Cougar

Chestnut Street Incident (1976)
purchase this album (Amazon)

I remember finding a cassette of this album back in the ’80s and enjoying the hell out of it, most notably for the fun covers of “Jailhouse Rock,” “Twentieth Century Fox” and “(Oh) Pretty Woman” and whenever I found a book that claimed to review every album ever made, I’d look up my favorite artists and Mellencamp was on that list, so whenever I came across the entry for Chestnut Street Incident I was always shocked to see it get one star (and in some cases, less than one). This album is despised — I think I even read one review which claimed it was one of the worse albums ever made. At the time, I thought the writer was being overly harsh; however, I was lacking history and context.