January 29, 2007 12:00 PM

Freedom’s Road

REVIEWED BY CHUCK ARNOLD

FOLK-ROCK

If you’re looking for the devil, he’s out there on Freedom’s Road,” sings John Mellencamp on the politically charged title tune of his 19th studio disc—and first album of original material since 2001’s Cuttin’ Heads—which finds the heartland rocker taking a harsh yet hopeful look at the state of America. He finds that “Jim Crow” is alive and well on a melancholy duet with civil rights folkie Joan Baez, while sadly surveying rural decay on the haunting “Ghost Towns Along the Highway.” But this Hoosier remains the champion of small-town America. On “The Americans,” he paints himself as a simple patriot who wears “tee shirts and blue jeans,” while on the equally anthemic single “Our Country”—one of eight songs featuring background vocals by the country group Little Big Town—he sings that “the dream is still alive.” Farm Aid, here he comes.

DOWNLOAD THIS: “Ghost Towns Along the Highway”

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