Picks and Pans Review: This Heartland Rocker Seems to Have Locked Onto the Joy of a Good Beat. He First Kicked Up a Rocking, Rhythmic Storm on His 1994 Single "wild Night," a Duet with Singer-Bassist Me'shell Ndegéocello. Now, on His 14th Disc, Mellencam
Instead, he boldly emphasizes the groove by bringing in as coproducer New York City dance-club deejay Junior Vasquez, who previously worked with Madonna and Elton John. The liner notes credit him as the source of the album's "loops, grooves, percussion and other monkey business."
Vasquez helps Mellencamp rejuvenate his familiar, meat-and-potatoes brand of rock. Keeping routine guitar riffing to a minimum, the collaborators accent "Life Is Hard" with a dash of hip hop and anchor "Emotional Love" and "Circling Around the Moon" with rumbling basslines and layered percussion. The rest of the band balances the menu with strong melodies and stately horn and violin flourishes.
But Mellencamp doesn't always sound up to the vocal demands of his hyperkinetic muse. His grizzled, down-in-the-mix performance on "This May Not Be the End of the World" is at odds with the track's exuberant marching pace. And the Hoosier sounds a bit sluggish on the first single, "Key West Intermezzo (I Saw You First)." It is as if Mr. Happy Go Lucky himself can barely muster the energy to even crack a smile. (Mercury)
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