Review: John Mellencamp- On the Rural Route 7609

This title will be released on June 15.

"If they wanted to call me Rumpelstilskin, I would have done it to have the opportunity to make records. Johnny Cougar indeed.- John Mellencamp

I have previously written on this site about John Mellencamp and his place in the Americana community and with On the Rural Route 7609, a box set which will be released on June 15, the music speaks for itself. Over the course of the set's four discs, many different sides of Mellencamp and his music are revealed and since the box focuses on album tracks and outtakes as opposed to hits, there are many songs here that will be new to even die-hard fans. Those who want to hear "Small Town" and "Hurts So Good" can look elsewhere. In fact, I'll be more than happy to direct you to the right place in the comments section. But those who want a career-spanning portrait of a modern American folk singer and roots rocker need to look no further.

The set begins with 2008's stark, acoustic ballad "Longest Days," inspired by the illness and subsequent death of Mellencamp's grandmother. The song addresses Mellencamp's career in an honest and revealing way with lines such as "So you tell yourself, you'll be back on top someday/But you know there's nothing waiting up there for you anyway." The song makes as compelling an opening to this set as it did on the album Life, Death, Love and Freedom.

The next track, "Grandma's Theme" from the 1985 album Scarecrow features Mellencamp's grandmother performing the traditional American folk song "The Baggage Coach Ahead". This is followed by 2007's "Rural Route," which is the absolute antithesis of "Small Town" or "Jack and Diane". Instead of describing "Two American kids growin' up in the heartland" or people who were "Taught to fear Jesus in a small town", this track examines the rural underbelly with lines about how the "air stinks of crystal meth" and its real-life tale of a rape and murder of a 5th grader near Mellencamp's parents home. It is perhaps the bleakest track of Mellencamp's career and will serve as a wake-up call to those who thought he only wrote anthems meant to be sung along to in arenas.

Things do not brighten up any on the next track, "Jackie Browne". The song, an acoustic folk ballad from 1989's Big Daddy, is a heartbreaking tale of poverty and how it affects one family. This is followed by "Rain on the Scarecrow," probably the best known track thus far, but this is not the version are most familiar with. This is the acoustic version of the song from 1999's Rough Harvest and the acoustic setting really helps to underline the serious nature of the song which deals with a family losing their farm and contains some of Mellencamp's most cutting lines: "Called my old friend Schepman up to auction off the land/He said John it's just my job and I hope you understand/Hey callin' it your job, ol' hoss, sure don't make it right/But if you want me to I'll say a prayer for your soul tonight".

The next two tracks deal with social problems of another nature. The first features Dr. Cornel West, professor of African American Studies at Princeton University reading the lyrics to John's 2007 tune "Jim Crow". This is followed by the original version of the song, a duet with folk legend Joan Baez. The song is one of many Mellencamp song's to address the issue of race in America.

The next track, one of my personal favorites, is "Big Daddy of Them All," which, according to the liner notes by Anthony DeCurtis, was inspired by Burl Ives' character in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof and how Mellencamp felt he related to that character. This is not the first nor the last time that Tennessee Williams and his works are referenced in the liner notes. The following track, "Deep Blue Heart", is a duet with Trisha Yearwood and was one of the highlights from Mellencamp's 2001 album Cuttin' Heads. This is followed by 2007's "Forgiveness" which examines in a very personal way dealing with our mistakes and longs for "peace of mind".

The next track, 2008's "Don't Need this Body" ranks with "Rural Route" as one of Mellencamp's bleakest. But it is also among his best. Produced by T Bone Burnett and featuring sparse instrumentation, the track frankly declares that "All my friends are sick or dying and I'm here all by myself/All I got left is a head full of memories and the thought of my upcoming death". Not exactly the type of sentiments one expects from an artist as commercially successful as Mellencamp.

The next track is a previously unreleased demo from the early '80s entitled "Jenny at 16". The song, featuring just Mellencamp on acoustic guitar, sounds like a pleasant enough folk-rock track and would easily rank among his best of that time period. Then we get to the second verse and we immediately realize why it was included here. Mellencamp sings: "Suckin' on a cigarette outside the Tastee-Freeze/Sittin' on a young man's lap, got his hands between her knees/Takin' off her Bobbie Brooks behind the shady trees/Cussin' like a sailor you know that that's Jenny". Sound familiar? The next two tracks will reveal why. The first is a short demo of "Jack and Diane" featuring the signature guitar riff along with the first verse and the unfinished chorus. This is followed by the classic, finished version of this song which is one of the best rock songs of its' period and the song that made John Mellencamp, or John Cougar, a household name.

The set's second disc begins with a reading of Mellencamp's 1987 song "The Real Life" performed by legendary actress Joanne Woodward. I've always loved the song and hearing it read by a woman in her 80s really brings a lot of meaning to the lyrics. This is followed by "Ghost Towns Along the Highway," a tale of the demise of small town America which Mellencamp calls the "sister song" to "Rain on the Scarecrow".

"The Full Catastrophe," which follows, was originally written for Johnny Cash's American Recordings after Cash asked Mellencamp to write a song for him. However, Mellencamp says Rick Rubin didn't "get it" and he subsequently recorded it for his own album Mr. Happy Go Lucky in 1996. The next track is an acoustic demo of Mellencamp's 1983 hit "The Authority Song" performed in a Jamaican accent, no less.

This is followed by 2008's "Troubled Land," a political track Mellencamp says was inspired by the works of Tennessee Williams. Next up is "To Washington", which was among the most controversial tracks of Mellencamp's career. Upon the song's release, Mellencamp recalls hearing a caller on his local radio station saying "I don't know who I hate worse: John Mellencamp or Saddam Hussein". The song is actually a re-write of a traditional folk song recorded by Charlie Poole as "White House Blues" and Woody Guthrie as "Baltimore to Washington" among others. Mellencamp's lyrics are anything but subtle and include such lines as "So America voted on a President/No one kept count on how the election went", "A new man in the White House with a familiar name/Said he had some fresh ideas but its worse now since he came", and "He wants to fight with many and he says it's not for oil/He sent out the National Guard to police the world."

This is followed by an alternative and much more rootsy version of 2007's "Our Country" which was infamously used and abused by Chevrolet. Lost in all the seemingly patriotic lyrics were lines about how "There's room enough here for science to live/And there's room enough here for religion to forgive" and how "Poverty could be just another ugly thing/And bigotry would be seen only as obscene/And the ones who run this land help the poor and common man...".

Next up is one of Mellencamp's best tracks, a 1989 tune about a "Country Gentleman" who "...Ain't-a gonna help no women/He ain't-a gonna help no children/He ain't-a gonna help no poor man/He's just gonna help his rich friends". Mellencamp leaves little to the imagination by ending the song with the line "Thank God he went back to California". The next track is "Freedom's Road" , a 2007 track about the state of the union and the war in Iraq. An acoustic version of 1996's "Mr. Bellows" follows and Mellencamp admits in the liner notes that the first verse was inspired by Bill Clinton.

There's an interesting story behind the next track, "Rodeo Clown," where Mellencamp boldly declares that "There's blood on the hands of all the rich politicians" and refers to George W. Bush as a the titualar rodeo clown. The country band Little Big Town did the backing vocals for the Freedom's Road album and refused to participate on this track because "They were afraid that country radio would hear about it and that would be the end for them". This, along with the Dixie Chicks boycott, demonstrates how far country radio has disintegrated since the days when songs such as "Okie from Muskogee" and "Man in Black" could co-exist.

The next track is the Rough Harvest version of "Love and Happiness" and this is followed by "Pink Houses" one of Mellencamp's best known tracks.

Disc three begins with a live version of "If I Die Sudden", a wonderful blues rock tune from 2008 and is followed by "Someday", a socially conscious garage rocker from 2007 and 1999's re-recording of "Between a Laugh and a Tear".

The next track is an alternate version of 1989's "Void in My Heart" recorded at Chess Records. An extremely personal song about Mellencamp's life ("Well I pured miles of concrete and strung wire for telephones/Dug ditches when I was a young boy and I first left my parents' home/Sang my songs for millions of people, sang good and bad news/Now there's a void in my heart and a fire at my fuse"), this version is much more upbeat than the album version and contains more traditional instrumentation such as the dobro and accordion. This is followed by Mellencamp's 2003 cover of Son House's "Death Letter".

The next track is a recent solo acoustic re-recording of 1979's "Sugar Marie" from the John Cougar album. The track is essentially about a good time in a small town and the characters are drawn straight from life. "I got this cowboy comin' with me," he sings, "This guy's name is Jeffery Jack/He can shoot the eyes out of a pool ball/He can get those young girls into the sack". This is followed by another similarly themed tune from 1989, "Theo and Weird Henry".

The next track, "When Jesus Left Birmingham" is from 1993's Human Wheels and contains electronic beats, a gospel chorus, and various sound effects atop the spiritual lyrics. It has never been one of my favorite tracks, but I can respect it for what it is. "L.U.V." from 1994's Dance Naked follows. A breezy, political garage rocker it was among the standouts on that particular album. This is followed by 2004's "Thank You", a bluesy gospel-inspired track.

"Women Seem", from 2001, follows. Mellencamp says in the liner notes that the comical tale of his troubles with women is "just me plagiarizing Ray Davies [of the Kinks]". "This World Don't Bother Me None", a blues track from 2004 could previously only be heard in an obscure documentary. This is the first time I have heard it and it contains some great slide guitar work and lyrics invoking imagery of America and contemplating mortality and being happy with your life.

The demo of "Cherry Bomb" follows and it features Mellencamp alone accompanying himself on autoharp. This is followed by the newest track on the set, "Someday the Rains will Fall", an outtake from the upcoming album No Better than This. The track seems to feature just Mellencamp on acoustic guitar and was recorded in mono with 1940s recording equipment in the Houston hotel room where legendary bluesman Robert Johnson recorded much of his output. If this is any indication, we are all in for a real treat this August. Disc three ends with "A Ride Back Home", a gospel duet with Karen Fairchild which Mellencamp compared to "one of the....songs that Johnny Cash and June Carter sang together."

The fourth and final disc begins with the 2007 roots rocker "My Aeroplane" which promotes the idea of peace and happiness among everybody. This is followed by "Colored Lights", a song which John wrote for the Blasters and they recorded for their 1985 album Hard Line. I'm not sure this version compares to the Blasters version, but it's always interesting to hear the songwriter's take on a song. "Just Like You", a soul track from 2001 inspired by the death of one of Mellencamp's friends follows.

Another 2008 tune, "Young Without Lovers" is up next. It is a very catchy acoustic number with a chorus that is begging you to sing along. This is followed by a recent solo acoustic version of 1980's "To M.G. (Wherever She May Be)" a real life tell of a relationship Mellencamp had at 15. It is a song I'm sure most of us can relate to and this version is much more personal and heartfelt than the original. The similarly themed folk-rock "Sweet Evening Breeze" from 1993 follows. This is followed by the rocker "What if I Came Knocking" which Mellencamp says was inspired by the beginning of his relationship with his wife Elaine.

Next up is the 2008 electric murder ballad "County Fair" which, much like "Rural Route" and "Ghost Towns Along the Highway" turns the idea of rural isolation being an escape from the problems of the world on its head. This is followed by a solo acoustic version of 2001's "Peaceful World", originally a duet with soul artist India.Arie. According to DeCurtis's liner notes the lyrics about how "Racism lives in the U.S. today" did not go over well with his record label with one executive going as far as to ask "Why does Mellencamp insist on writing about these niggers?". (The same album contained a collaboration with Chuck D., leader of the rap group Public Enemy who are noted for their anti-racism messages.) This acoustic version sounds like a classic American folk song in the vein of Pete Seeger.

"Your Life is Now" from 1998's John Mellencamp follows. A gentle folk-pop song, it finds Mellencamp telling the listener that "Your fathers days are lost to you/This is your time here to do what you will do" and asking "Would you teach your children to tell the truth?" This is followed by 2008's "For the Children" which is one of Mellencamp's most stark and heartfelt tracks ever. The final track on the set is an alternate version of "Rural Route". This version is even bleaker than the studio version and it contains an extra verse that sums up not just this set but most of Mellencamp's music: "Father's been brought up on charges on the rural route/Young man awaiting death sentence conviction from the rural route/Loneliness and isolation on the rural route/Slowly change the look of this nation from the rural route."

Is the set perfect? No. There's no way that everybody will be 100% pleased with a set like this. There will always be a track or two you don't care for and there are always better tracks that should have made it. One problem I have with the set is the fact that it contained nothing written prior to 1979. I know that Mellencamp is not a fan of his earlier albums, but "Chestnut Street" and "Sidewalks and Streetlights" are very revealing tracks that should be included. Other tracks that I feel are missing are 1983's "Golden Gates", 1985's "Minutes to Memories", and 1998's "Eden is Burning", the sequel to "Jack and Diane". But these are minor complaints. If you have any interest in John Mellencamp at all or if you want to get to know his music beyond the hits, this set belongs in your collection.

In Anthony DeCurtis's liner notes there was a paragraph about the Americana and No Depression movement. I will end my review by quoting it:

"If he has not been properly credited for that groundbreaking role, it is largely because he committed the unforgivable sin of actually having hits while making innovative music. Part of the No Depression mythology requires either a tragic early death or decades of unacknowledged masterpieces created during a life of grueling poverty. Writing and recording great songs that millions of people like and buy is not part of that sentimental picture- regardless of how comfortably the music itself sits within the genre's parameters. As Neil Young pointed out, sometimes you are made to pay a price for having hit records."

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Tags: Blues, Charlie Poole, Joan Baez, John Mellencamp, Johnny Cash, Robert Johnson, Son House, The Kinks, Woody Guthrie, box set, More…folk, rock, the Blasters

Comment by Easy Ed on May 22, 2010 at 10:42am
You know I'm not a fan but your review/preview is compelling. I won't buy the box but I made a list of tracks that I'll sample. And download if they sound as good as you make them sound here. Good read...even if you are a Mellen-maniac.
Comment by Kyla Fairchild on May 22, 2010 at 10:54am
Fantastic post! Thanks Adam.
Comment by Gar on May 22, 2010 at 1:40pm
That last paragraph speaks a ton of truth regarding not only Alt. Country but any other genre of music. It doesn't have to be loved by only a handful of people to be great.
Comment by steviedal on May 22, 2010 at 2:37pm
As someone who only has a Mellencamp "best of" but would like to try more i was intrigued by this review and i'm seriously thinking of getting a copy . However , i just checked on Amazon and it's very expensive , the UK site wants £72 for a copy ! I'll have to rethink methinks !
Comment by Adam Sheets on May 22, 2010 at 3:07pm
This is a four-disc set so it is more expensive than a normal album. It is definitely a worthwhile purchase if you have the money, but I realize that many do not. I would have bought it regardless, because as Easy Ed said, I'm a Mellen-maniac, but I was lucky enough to get around purchasing it. For those who cannot afford it, I highly recommend Life, Death, Love and Freedom or The Lonesome Jubilee.
Comment by Easy Ed on May 22, 2010 at 4:52pm
Maybe I should have said Mellen-head?
Comment by denton fabrics on May 22, 2010 at 4:56pm
I was never much of a fan of the pop side of Mellencamp (Jack & Diane, etc) but I'll second Adam's enthusiams for Life, Death, Love and Freedom. Johnny Cash could have covered that album as American VII.
Comment by David Bennett on May 23, 2010 at 9:52am
Here's a review I found on the Mellencamp fan club:

I had the opportunity to listen to John Mellencamp’s new box set “On The Rural Route 7609” a few times this week through a friend of mine who writes record reviews for a living. She wouldn’t let me keep the music to take home because she promised not to let the album fall into the hands of a third party, but I was able to listen while in her home office and thought I would offer a sneak peak to all the true fans on this board. Even though I don’t post on here at all, I am a hard-core Mellencamp fan and own all his albums. Therefore, I think I have a pretty good grasp on his musical legacy and what fans who have been waiting for this release for a long time expect.

There’s no reason to discuss the songs on this set that are already available to the public and have been for years (they sound the same), so I’ll focus on the previously unreleased tracks. Below are my thoughts on each one:

1. Jim Crow read by Cornell West: It takes West all of 55 seconds to read the lyrics to this song, and it’s unclear why John would think anyone would want to hear this. A baffling addition to this set to say the least.

2. Deep Blue Heart (remix): This sounds almost exactly like the version on “Cuttin’ Heads” except it doesn’t have all the harmony and backing vocals at the chorus, so it actually comes across a little more raw and not as polished. Nice to have but not essential by any stretch.

3. Jenny At 16: A solo acoustic demo of an old song that has many of the lines that would later find their way into “Jack and Diane.” The song starts with the line: “Growing up in a small community/Everybody knows everything about you and me.” "Jenny At 16" makes reference to “sucking on a cigarette outside the Tastee-Freeze” – obviously the cigarette would later become a chili dog. The chorus makes reference to running in the Johnson grass with Jenny, so it’s not completely an early draft of Jack and Diane. It is its own separate song and a pretty catchy one at that, even if it’s not fully realized.

4. Jack and Diane (writer demo): This is just over a minute long and John shouts out a pretty funny “fuck” when he makes a mistake at the beginning. He’s merely strumming the melody to Jack and Diane and singing a couple of lines here, including the “let it rock, let it roll” bridge, which was actually the second verse back then. Overall there isn’t much here to listen to, and of all the unreleased tracks on this set it’s the least interesting.

5. The Real Life read by Joanne Woodward: It actually takes Woodward 2:36 to read the lyrics to this classic and while she does a good job, I’m not sure why anybody would play this track more than once. I can’t figure out why this and the “Jim Crow” reading are on here. I’m sure they could have found a demo or a live version of these songs that would be much more interesting. Oh well.

6. Authority Song (writing demo): An acoustic demo that features John singing in what appears to be a faux Jamaican accent and playing the song in a sped up fashion. At the end you hear the tape click off and then out of nowhere John says, "Son of a bitch." Odd, but true. It’s fun to hear this early version of a classic hit single, and it offers some insight into John’s songwriting process.

7. Our Country (alternate version): I’ve heard this on John’s online radio station on his website a few years ago, so this really isn’t all that rare. It’s more of a demo than an alternate version, with the chorus coming after the first couple of lines and alternate lyrics in the final verse (“Maybe the dream will leave/Or else it will come true/And the more that we believe/The better we will do”). A nice version, and I’ll be glad to finally have this on CD when the set is released next month.

8. Mr. Bellows (remix): Like “Deep Blue Heart,” this track lacks the harmony and background vocals that are prominent on the “Mr. Happy Go Lucky” version, so it comes across as more raw. It’s uses John’s same vocal track as the “Mr. Happy Go Lucky” version does (as does “Deep Blue Heart”), so the differences are really subtle and not all that interesting.

9. A Void in My Heart (from Chess Studios): I recorded and still have John’s special radio broadcast from Chess Studios in 1989, so this version was not new to me as I’ve had it for 21 years. It’s different and more subdued than the studio version, but ultimately not quite as catchy and he even leaves out a couple of lines. Nice to have the only ever live version of this great song, but ultimately it’s not something I think I’ll come back to listen to all that often.

10. Sugar Marie (solo acoustic): It’s awesome to hear John revisit a lost classic like this (this is a new version, you can tell by his voice that it was recorded very recently), especially since he never performs anything pre-American Fool in concert and has all but denied writing many of these early songs. Unfortunately, he sings this in his current slurred, folk croon and it’s hard to make out some of the lyrics. Still, it’s nice to have a new version of a song that I would have sworn just a month ago John didn’t even remember was in his catalog. He even keeps in the “we’re gonna tear the heart out of this old town tonight” at the end, which seemed like a throwaway line in the original 1979 version.

11. L.U.V. (remix): A more in-your-face version that they likely made back in 1994 for potential release of this song as the third single off “Dance Naked.” When they opted against putting out a third single, this was probably tossed aside and remained unreleased until now. Again, it’s the same vocal track as on the album version and the backing vocals are gone, so there’s not really much new to hear with the exception of slightly different instrumentation. Like the remixes of “Deep Blue Heart” and “Mr. Bellows,” it’s nothing special.

12. Cherry Bomb (writer demo): John is playing autoharp on this early version of his popular top 10 hit, and although there are some lyrics that would ultimately be changed (he says lived on the “edge” of town instead of the “outskirts” of town, and he also says “had me a couple of real cute girlfriends,” which became “real nice girlfriends" on the final version. There was also no mention of “going nuts out in the sticks” in the second verse as there was on the original), the infectiousness of this tune is still fully intact even without the full band playing along. My favorite of the writing demos and a great addition to this set.

13. Colored Lights: I had never heard the Blasters version of this song until just a couple days ago when I found the video online. It’s truly a kick-ass song, and this new version is dominated by an acoustic guitar (there are no drums at all), although there is an electric guitar thrown in to help flesh everything out. John changes the lyrics around just a tad from the Blasters version, but this is the highlight of the set and is the catchiest and most fun song John has released in a decade. It’s also cool that he went back and finally recorded his own version of a song he wrote 25 years ago. This is a fantastic addition to “On The Rural Route 7609” – it’s just too bad there weren’t more rare gems like this included.

14. To M.G. (Wherever She May Be) (solo acoustic): One of my favorite songs from “Nothing Matters and What if it Did,” I was looking forward to a new version of this great nostalgic tune. Unfortunately, John takes this so far to the folk side of the ledger that he strips away almost all of the song’s pop appeal. He’s trying to make this sound like it was came out of the hills in the 1930s or 40s, and that’s just not possible with a song like this about an old high school girlfriend. It’s not terrible by any stretch, it's just not what I expected and hoped for. Like “Sugar Marie,” this is a new recording of a song many of us thought he’d forgotten about, so maybe there’s a chance he’ll play it live again someday.

15. Peaceful World (writer demo): This starts with a brief, separately-recorded intro by John in which he says, “This is how the song sounded when I wrote it.” It’s right there with “Cherry Bomb” as my favorite of the demos included on this set, as it’s just John and an acoustic guitar without all the production (and, obviously, without India Arie) that would later find its way onto the studio version. Make no mistake, the studio version is great, but this strips the song down to its essence and is a real treat to hear. This is one song I’ll be playing a ton when it’s officially released and I can actually own it myself.

16. Rural Route (writer demo): Even more haunting and spooky than the “Freedom’s Road” version that is on Disc 1, this version is fantastic even though John cleaned up the lyrics a little bit before recording the “Freedom’s Road” version to make the whole narrative make more sense. He also has an extra verse at the end here that ultimately got cut out altogether (“Loneliness and isolation/On the rural route/Slowly changed the look of this nation/From the rural route”). This set needed more songs like this and fewer studio versions of songs. Really fantastic addition.

I left out “Someday the Rains Will Fall” and “The World Don’t Bother Me None” from this review as I think we’ve all heard those songs by now. I remember someone sending me “The World Don’t Bother Me None” right after “Wall Tall” came out, so it’s been in circulation for at least six years and is another song that has been played frequently on John’s online radio station.

Notes: “Rain on the Scarecrow,” “Between a Laugh and a Tear” and “Love and Happiness” are included on this set in the versions that appeared on the “Rough Harvest” album in 1999. That’s a shame in the case of “Between a Laugh and a Tear,” because the “Scarecrow” version is clearly better, in my opinion. There is about 40 seconds of audio of John and Mike Wanchic talking about the Iraq war prior to the music kicking in on “To Washington.” There is also about a minute of dialog of some old lady talking about getting older prior to the start of “The Full Catastrophe.”

The verdict: Well, this box set, as I’m reading from some other posts on this board just now, is certainly not for everybody. If they are truly charging $100 for it then it’s not going to sell many copies. Most of the songs here have been out for years, and there are no previously unheard songs to speak of, with the exception of “Jenny At 16,” and that’s barely even a song (it’s more of an abandoned demo). “Colored Lights” will thrill many who have never heard the original version by the Blasters because even though it’s 25 years old, if you haven’t heard it before it will come across as a new song, and if you have heard it you’ll be thrilled to have a version of John singing it because it’s an infectious pop/rock song, even in the mostly acoustic rendition that appears here. No, “On The Rural Route 7609” doesn’t compile of a bunch of songs that never made his original studio albums, as many of us hoped (present company included) and that’s the whole point of box sets for many artists (Springsteen’s wonderful 1998 box set “Tracks” being a shining example of a collection of nothing but rarities. It contains no songs that were readily available before).

Still, there’s enough fun stuff here to make this a release to look forward to, and even a disappointing box set is better than no box set at all. It’s just that after so many years of hearing about a Mellencamp box set being in the works (remember when it was going to be called “Nothing Like We Planned” back in the mid-‘90s?), all we get when one finally arrives is a bunch of songs that have been available for years, and all these legendary unreleased songs that have never seen the light of day continue to collect dust (Toby Myers once told me there are a ton of great Mellencamp songs lying in the vaults).

As a previous poster said, this was supposed to be a 72-track box set and Steve Berkowitz, formerly of Sony Music and a man who was integral in coming up with the track listing for "Trouble No More," was hired to rummage through the archives and find some truly rare gems. Perhaps one of those was "Jenny At 16," but it certainly doesn't appear as if his input was used at all. As was previously stated in another thread, there is a lot of unused space on these discs. They could have fit at least 75 tracks on here, instead we get 54.

Here's what Berkowitz said last year when asked about this box set: "John has an incredible collection of material going all the way back to the 1970s--just vocal and guitar, with dogs barking and babies gurgling and him singing. Many of these recordings capture the first glimpse of songs and anthems destined to be classics--and these tapes capture the birth of these gems. We're just now editing a version of 'Pink Houses' from three early demos! It gives a peek behind the curtain to see how John created it--and a glimpse of what was to come." What happened to that version of "Pink Houses?" It's nowhere to be found; instead, we get the standard version from "Uh-Huh" that we've heard a million times. There's no way that Berkowitz's work was put to use here. My guess is that John got pissed off at somebody or something at some point in this process and decided to just deliver something that was straight forward and by the books as opposed to a box set that was loaded with the rare material that Berkowitz was obviously brought on board to find.

My suggestion would be for people who don’t want to pay for the same material twice to buy the unreleased songs individually from iTunes, assuming they allow those songs to be purchased individually and not just with the whole set, as sometimes happens with big compilations like this (they don’t want people cherry picking just the songs they want, so they make you buy everything).

I hope you like the review and hope everyone has a great summer.
Comment by chuck young on May 25, 2010 at 12:33pm
Since Woody Guthrie, Hank Williams, Johnny Cash, Bob Dylan, Neil Young, and Bruce Springsteen there have been performers who will always stand the test of time to make sure that the little man is heard. There are many more who I didn't name such as Joe Ely, Dave Alvin and Townwe an Zandt. Keep your ear top thelower end of the radio scale and search the Indie Record stores 'cause they're out there and they are right on.
Comment by Scott Barrance on May 26, 2010 at 2:52am
The Lonesome Jubilee defined Americana for me and Big Daddy is just so perfect ,as someone from the UK looking in at an artist I thought was an 'Unknown cult figure' I was not exposed to all the hits so came in fresh and just loved the way he kept evolving . It was John who led to me to Steve Earle,Springsteen ,The Jayhawks etc Chris Knight is another who sounds similar.....


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Created by No Depression Feb 17, 2009 at 9:06pm. Last updated by No Depression Sep 24, 2012.