Scarecrow (1985)


 
1. Rain on the Scarecrow 2. Grandma's Theme 3. Small Town 4. Minutes to Memories 5. Lonely Ol' Night 6. The Face of the Nation 7. Justice and Independence '85 8. Between a Laugh and a Tear 9. Rumbleseat 10.You've Got to Stand for Something 11.R.O.C.K. in the U.S.A. 12.The Kind of Fella I Am

 

Every now and then, an album will be released that is not only chocked full of great music, but seems to have a certain, special feel or vibe to it. No, I'm not necessarily talking about a "concept" album. There have been too many of those, and in many cases the concept takes over and much of the music gets lost. This is the album that really defined Mellencamp - who he was, where he came from, and what he stood for in life.

This is the album about the great Midwest, or, more precisely the Midwest that may have been great that now looks pretty bleak. Hailing from a "small town" of Seymour, Indiana, Mellencamp seems right at home as he's singing about the hard times that have taken over so many of the lives that are closest to him. Sadly, progress takes no prisoners.

Specifically, this is a plight of the American Farmer. He leads off with the first cut Rain on the Scarecrow that is bitter, angry, and doesn't pull any punches. He's definitely pissed, as are the people he's singing about in his songs. What could possibly be more depressing than working 16 hour days, 7 days a week only to lose your legacy and history because too much food is being produced? Actually, only the title song addresses this directly, but the whole album then takes off in, what is almost, a "story" of "what happens next".

He cleverly includes a crude, homemade recording of a snippet of his song that his Grandmother recorded many years ago (Grandma's Theme), which seems to simply evoke simpler times. We can almost perfectly visualize Grandma, with a beat up old guitar plucking away on the front porch as the family is resting up for the next days work. Mellencamp then plunges into the purely autobiographical Small Town that is the cornerstone of the album. This is who he is, and he makes no apologies for his background.

Although Mellencamp rocks just as hard and convincingly as he has numerous times in the past, he injects a bit of that small town americana into all of the tracks that give this record the push that makes it graduate from good to great. Whereas his past records seem to sound like they were made for a dance at a high school gym or the local bowling alley in anytown, this record makes you feel as your watching the band play at the local county fair where pecan pies are made and hogs are decorated with ribbons.

All of this wouldn't matter if the music took a back seat, but it does not. Most of the album is just Mellencamp (again) being himself. Songs such as Rumbleseat and R.O.C.K. in the U.S.A. are just as powerful and melodic as anything he had ever done, and he clearly is trying to define his persona with songs such as The Kind of Fella I Am and You've Got to Stand for Somethin'. Mellecamp would continue to have episodes of brilliance throughout his career, but he never would do so again with such power driving rock and roll behind his many messages.

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