John Mellencamp would likely run neck-in-neck with Larry Bird if the citizens of Indiana were ever to elect a patron saint for the state. In his earliest days, he specialized in solidly built radio-rock tunes that painted a picture of the America most politicians spend too much time trying to will back into existence (Tastee Freez, high school football captains, etc.), with some songs essentially existing as musical versions of Norman Rockwell paintings.

John Mellencamp would likely run neck-in-neck with Larry Bird if the citizens of Indiana were ever to elect a patron saint for the state. In his earliest days, he specialized in solidly built radio-rock tunes that painted a picture of the America most politicians spend too much time trying to will back into existence (Tastee Freez, high school football captains, etc.), with some songs essentially existing as musical versions of Norman Rockwell paintings.

In recent years, however, The Artist Formerly Known As Cougar has uncovered a vicious populist streak, turning out folk and blues steeped albums that explore broader societal ills, like the erosion of the working class and the darkening of the American dream. Witness “Troubled Land” off Life, Death, Love and Freedom, released in 2008, or the righteous “Lawless Times” from last year’s perfectly titled Plain Spoken, where he casts a jaundiced eye at everything from the banks to the government. “These are lawless times,” he growls, and it’s hard not to take him at his word.

Photo courtesy of the artist