In Not Fade Away, we take a look at the legacy of some of the greatest albums of the past few decades – some iconic, some lesser known – as they celebrate significant anniversaries. Here, we take a look at John Mellencamp‘s ‘Trouble No More,” an album of covers, originally released June 3, 2003.
Three years before Bruce Springsteen covered Americana classics on his We Shall Overcome album, John Mellencamp tackled iconic (mostly) pre-rock and roll songs on his Trouble No More album. The album was born, more or less, at tribute concert to Billboard Magazine’s beloved editor Timothy White, where Mellencamp covered Robert Johnson’s “Stones In My Passway.” That song, appropriately, opens the album, and if it weren’t for Mellencamp’s distinctive voice, you’d be forgiven for thinking it was recorded at Chess Records in the late ’50s.
Mellencamp wasn’t trying to out-Clapton anyone with a blues schtick. He may have mined the blues for the album, but he notably avoided any songs with “blues” in the title. Hus aim was to get at the essence of blues rather than the cliches of it. As Entertainment Weekly mentioned in their review of the album (they gave it a B+), “Modern blues albums rarely get the rackety drums and slippery slide guitar just right. But this CD of American blues and folk bursts with old-time voodoo bluster.” Rolling Stone, meanwhile, gave it three stars, saying “Here’s the real surprise: This album doesn’t sound that distant from the grass-roots rock of Mellencamp albums such as Scarecrow and The Lonesome Jubilee.” Americana magazine No Depression added, “Mellencamp and his band remade the tunes in a contemporary context, though the lyrics still retain their full impact.” Nearly all the reviews of the album noted Mellencamp’s excellent vocal performance.
He didn’t take the same approach to each song. His cover of Son House’s “Death Letter” sounded like a John Mellencamp record from the late ’80s, specifically the Lonesome Jubilee/Big Daddy era (most of the album veered somewhere between those two points). Mellencamp was swinging for the fences: Besides covering Johnson and House, he also took on songs by Woody Guthrie (“Johnny Hart”), Hoagy Carmichael (“Baltimore Oriole”) and Willie Dixon (“Down In The Bottom”), as well as a couple of traditional songs, including “John The Revelator” and “Diamond Joe.” He also included one rock and roll song (“Teardrops Will Fall,” by obscure band Dickey Doo And The Don’ts) and one modern classic (Lucinda Williams’ “Lafayette”).
— Brian Ives, Radio.com