John Mellencamp, The Modern Mortal

Songs From 'Life, Death, Love and Freedom'

Long a standout purveyor of rootsy, direct "heartland" rock, John Mellencamp recently returned with a new album that finds him on a folksy, pessimistic streak.

Mellencamp 300; Credit: Courtesy of the artist

John Mellencamp. Courtesy of the artist hide caption

itoggle caption Courtesy of the artist

Life, Death, Love and Freedom is what Mellencamp calls a collection of "modern electric folk songs," on which he muses largely on mortality (his own) and impending trouble (in the wider world).

Part of the record's spare aesthetic comes from producer T-Bone Burnett, long known for his expertise in stripped-down Americana. But the subject matter may come from Mellencamp's own maturity — he was 56 when he released the album last July.

The Indiana-born singer-songwriter joined Fresh Air host Terry Gross from his home studio near Bloomington to talk about growing up as a Hoosier, about how his newest songs reflect his growing sense of mortality and about how he's always felt like a folk singer, despite what he describes as industry pressure to fit the pop-music mold.

And Mellencamp shares solo acoustic performances of four songs from Life, Death, Love and Freedom: "Longest Days," "Ride Back Home," "Young Without Lovers" and "Troubled Land."

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