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John Mellencamp

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The origin of John Mellencamp's new work Trouble No More dates back to his own musical beginnings. The album is the result of his deep seeded admiration for what he considers to be some of the finest examples of American song writing and recording. Inspired by their ability to be so 'plain spoken' lyrically and so musically direct, Mellencamp listened exclusively to the works of Hank Williams, Woody Guthrie and Robert Johnson several years ago while working on a previous album. Moved to rediscover some of the roots of their works, Mellencamp immersed himself in folk and blues. Enthused by the genres, Mellencamp challenged himself and his band, to not only capture some of the songs' original sentiment, but also to transform them into something they could make their own. Trouble No More is the result of that challenge.

Researching material that might be suitable for recording proved to be a much more difficult task than anticipated. "You think you know about the history of music, of folk and blues," he notes, "but it was so much more than I had expected; it goes much deeper than you can imagine." In order to undertake a project as special as this, Mellencamp sifted through delta blues, east Texas blues, west coast blues, country songs, folk songs, literally hundreds, if not thousands, of songs. His journey led him on a few unfamiliar turns, introducing him to things like Memphis Minnie's "Joliet Bound," traditional folk songs like "Diamond Joe," as well as some more recent recordings like Lucinda Williams' "Lafayette."

With an eclectic collection to draw from, Mellencamp and the band prepared to embark on this project. [Guitarist] "Andy York went into solitary for six months before he was able to fathom Robert Johnson and Son House's playing," says Mellencamp. As the band's ability to master some of the material developed, they started performing Johnson's "Stones In My Passway." In October of 2002, Mellencamp performed "Stones" at memorial concerts honoring his friend Timothy White. The idea for the collection had begun to really take shape.

In terms of underlying themes, most of the songs on the album chronicle anguish and tribulation that Mellencamp says reflect the climate and atmosphere of present times. He comments, "In most of these songs, it's a case of 'please, can we have some mercy?'" With a wide base of material, the band went into arduous pre-production sessions. The core of the group - Mike Wanchic (guitar), Dane Clark (drums), York and Mellencamp - rehearsed the songs, one at a time, with acoustic guitars and a single drum to figure out a rhythm; only later adding dobro and mandolin. "We thought if the four of us couldn't figure out how to play these songs, there'd be no point in involving the rest of the band," Mellencamp recalls. After the smaller group made some headway, John Gunnell (bass), Toby Myers (upright bass), Mike Ramos (accordion) and Miriam Sturm (violin) joined in and, ultimately, the full band rehearsed the material over and over, making the song what Mellencamp calls "stage ready." The stage, in this case, was the recording studio.

Mellencamp is now thoroughly convinced that this is the best way to record. "By the time we walked into the studio, we were playing songs we really knew. It's the old fashioned way of making records and it works." John and the band got to live with the material and had a more complete understanding of each song before tape rolled. The result is a collection he's very much at home with.

To add to the authenticity, Mellencamp and the band recorded on a 16-track machine and exclusively used tube microphones. Another departure from their standard procedure was to record all of the songs live. All this was done to impart a unique and rich, more organic, sound to the songs.

Before the album's release there was a great deal of attention paid to the song "To Washington" which is the only track credited to Mellencamp. Actually, the song dates back to 1902, if not earlier, and was made famous by Charlie Poole and the North Carolina Ramblers. Under different titles, with different lyrics, the Carter family recorded it and, later, Woody Guthrie adapted it, as did Utah Phillips. John notes, "The tradition of the song is for it to be stolen and made contemporary each time it's done." Though considered as an anti-war song, John doesn't see it as such. "I didn't intend or think it would be perceived that way," explaining, "it's simply a commentary, a writer's view of what's happening." He adds, "It's the troubadour's responsibility to reflect his view of the world."

Trouble No More includes Hoagy Carmichael's "Baltimore Oriole." The great American pop composer was actually from Bloomington, Indiana where John lives. "He frequented a coffee shop in town called The Gables and it's still there. In my imagination he wrote the song in The Gables on one cold winter's day." "Teardrops Will Fall" is a 1950's song from the Philadelphia group Dickie Doo and the Don'ts. " The End of the World" recorded in 1963 by Skeeter Davis, written by Sylvia Dee and Arthur Kent, and produced by Chet Atkins is included as is "John the Revelator," a traditional song has been recorded numerous times. "Johnny Hart," closely associated with Woody Guthrie, is another traditional song in the collection. "Death Letter" is from the Son House canon (Blind Willie Johnson recorded it, as well) while "Down At The Bottom" is a not very well known Willie Dixon song that Howlin' Wolf recorded.

About John Mellencamp John Mellencamp has been recording since the middle 1970's; Trouble No More is the 21st album of his career. Having sold over 40 million albums, he has received a total of eleven Grammy nominations and has, to date, won one Grammy. He was named the recipient of the 2001 Billboard Century Award for distinguished creative achievement. He lives and works near Bloomington, Indiana. John and Elaine Mellencamp have two sons, Hud and Speck. Mellencamp is the father of three daughters, Teddi Jo, Justice and Michelle, from previous marriages.

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