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Published: Sunday, 6/15/2003

CD reviews: Mellencamp disc flavored by blues

John Mellencamp is at that enviable point in his career where he can do whatever he wants, no apologies necessary.

He's sold millions of records without sacrificing his artistic integrity and established an unblemished track record as a singer/songwriter with the rare ability to entertain and agitate.

It makes perfect sense that his most recent work - his 21st release - would be an uncompromising collection of blues and traditional songs.

The first sound on “Trouble No More” is an angry slide guitar raking across the Robert Johnson song “Stones in My Passway,” immersing listeners immediately into rock and roll's forgotten past. From there Mellencamp and his excellent band tap into the work of greats like Hoagy Carmichael, Willie Dixon, Son House, Woody Guthrie, and even Lucinda Williams on a collection of covers.

“Trouble No More” oozes blues, with most of the songs delving unflinchingly into themes of loss, dread, and mortality. But it's a joyful work, too, recorded live in the studio by an ace band of musicians.

It's an organic record, and played loud, foot-stompers like the Guthrie cut “Johnny Hart” and the obscure 1950s pop song “Teardrops Will Fall” recall the classic heartland Mellencamp sound while drawing even deeper on his roots.

- ROD LOCKWOOD

“Body Kiss” features collaborations with top talents in R&B and hip-hop, including Lil' Kim, Snoop Dogg, and R. Kelly. Yet for all the big names - and obvious appeal to record-buyers, making No. 1 on the charts - the disc is mired in ballads and grows monotonous. While Isley's voice is as unique, and often as soulful, as ever, the tracks tend to blur. “I Like” with Kelly and Snoop Dogg is the standout cut with its sinuous vocals and echoes of 2-step in the beats.

- RICHARD PATON

Renee Zellweger and Ewan McGregor serve up a credible swing-era duo, a spin on Doris Day and Rock Hudson comedies. But the strength of this disc is its bawdy, sassy tone, carried off by a mixture of new songs and standards by Frank Sinatra and others. Oscar-nominated composer Marc Shaiman does four songs and produces the title number, a jazzy duet by new artists Holly Palmer and Michael Buble that fits neatly into the genre. “Down With Love” is up with musical character.

- TOM HENRY

The Grammy-nominated Yellowjackets may be getting just a bit complacent in the studio without immediate audience response. There are marvelous musical ideas in the 11 tracks composed by band members, but sometimes they just seem to go on a bit too long, taking a page out of the smooth jazz book. “Go Go,” the lead tune, promises an urban beat and kicks off strongly, then appears to fall back into itself. Yet it is apparent that being in the studio allowed for a good deal of musical exploration and experimentation,

- LARRY ROBERTS

BRIEFLY NOTED

  • JAKE ARMERDING, Jake Armerding (Compass) Urban folk music with down-to-earth lyrics and sprightly, breezy guitar/fiddle/mandolin backgrounds are refreshing and unique as done by this rising talent. His light tenor vocals tie it all together. KEN ROSENBAUM



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