Review: John Mellencamp Brings It All Back Home—Literally and Figuratively

John Mellencamp/The Good Samaritan Tour 2000/Republic
Four out of Five Stars

This is not a concert. I’m just playing on the street. I’m not promoting anything. I’m not selling anything. I’m just giving back to the people who have been so good to me.” 

So claims John Mellencamp on his new live album, The Good Samaritan Tour 2000. The remarks come after he wrapped up a decidedly down-home version of “Small Town” during one of the tour’s street corner performances. The lead-off track on this new offering (well, not so new— it was recorded more than 20 years ago), is part of a surprisingly different concert collection, one that eschews “the hits” in favor of covers (“Pink Houses” and “Key West  Intermezzo” are the only other songs plucked from the Mellencamp catalog), it’s meant as aural accompaniment for a documentary being screened on the Turner Classic Movie’s (TCM) YouTube channel. Narrated by actor Matthew McConaughey, it details a jaunt that took Mellencamp and his band to parks and public places throughout the U.S. The performances sound somewhat extemporaneous and there’s even audible crowd noise intruding on several of the songs. That only adds to the sense of spontaneity and makes the experience that much more vivid and visceral.

It’s that setlist that makes for the most unusual element in this soundtrack of sorts. Mellencamp culls a wide variety of songs and sources—Woody Guthrie (“Oklahoma Hills”), the Rolling Stones (“The Spider and the Fly,” “Street Fighting Man”), Jimi Hendrix by way of Bob Dylan (“All Along the Watchtower”), Donovan and the Animals (“Hey Gyp”), and Rod Stewart (“Cut Across  Shorty)—and yet still manages to hit the mark with his astute interpretations. What inspired him to take this unusual tack is anyone’s guess, but given the unorthodox approach to this outing in general, it seems to fit the format. So too, Mellencamp’s take on “Street Fighting Man” and “Cut Across Shorty” in particular are well attuned to his everyman persona. 


Why this effort took so long to find release may be the biggest mystery, but in the absence of touring, it may have seemed an apt time to ignite interest. Likewise, a good samaritan never goes out of style.


Photo by Marc Hauser

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