June 5th, 2003

Went to Newbury Comics yesterday afternoon looking for the new Gillian Welch CD, “Soul Journey” (fine disc — or so it seems on two spins — but what a friggin’ awful title; this, I suppose, it one of the pitfalls of doing things on your own, no A&R guy to tell you to add a chorus to some song that doesn’t need one because it’ll sound like a single that way, but no A&R guy to tell say, “That’s one sucky record title you’ve got there”) and any Appendix Out discs I could get my hands on. A friend recently got me listening to Alasdair Roberts, who fronts Appendix Out, and his stuff is fairly amazing. Bit like a Scots Will Oldham (not surprising, given that he idolizes Oldham/made an EP with Oldham and Jason Molina of Songs: Ohia a couple years back). I picked up the only Appendix Out disc they had in stock, “The Night is Advancing” and so far (one spin) I like it a good bit.

Of course, none of this has much if anything to do with where I was going when I started out here. And I don’t feel like writing some clever transition, so I’ll just make an abrupt left turn.

I’m in the store and I’m listening to something playing over the house system that’s just awful beyond all belief. Covers and traditionals rendered in faux down-home style. Like the singer thinks he’s Dylan, but he’s totally missing the point. And I’m thinking, “Christ, this sounds like John Mellencamp. But it can’t be. He’s too talented to make a record like this. Hell, even in his worst moments he’s way better than this.” As it happens, I was wrong about that last bit. In his worst moments, he sounds like a totally spent roots rocker who can’t figure out what to do with himself — nor even that he ought to have quit while he was ahead. It’s a brand new record. It’s called “Trouble No More.” And I hope beyond hope that I never hear a note of it again.

I kid you not, this disc chased me right out of the store. I was all set to do some shopping around, maybe locate a few other discs I’ve been meaning to check out. But after about 20 minutes of Mellencamp murdering songs like Skeeter Davis’s “End of the World” (OK, not the worst version of that song I’ve ever heard, but pretty bad just the same) and Lucinda Williams’ “Lafayette” (my heart breaks for poor Lucinda), I just brought my selections to the register, paid up and booked it out of there as quickly as I could. And please don’t get me wrong, I actually dig John Mellencamp (liked him when he was John Cougar, too). I think he’s made some remarkable records in his career. But yikes. I don’t think I’ve ever had such an immediate, negative reaction to a record by an artist I otherwise enjoy. My advice: Don’t buy it. Don’t listen to it. And if you dig Mellencamp but you’re not the kind of rabid fan who’s just gonna adore everything he does, avoid it. It’ll ruin the guy for you.

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