John Mellencamp: "Freedom's Road"
Producer: John Mellencamp
UMe/Universal Republic
Release Date: Jan. 23

For three decades-plus, Mellencamp's music has represented Middle America and its blue-collar values. "Freedom's Road" is no different. That's not to say his latest release is stale. The garage band feel of the album-which was, in fact, recorded in a garage-breathes new life into Mellencamp's common-man themes. Indeed, his first album of originals in five years shows he's as in touch with the working man as ever. The collection has a decidedly retro feel, but that doesn't mean it isn't relevant. And while some question the "Authority Song" singer's credibility for allowing Chevy to use "Our Country" to advertise a sport utility vehicle, it doesn't diminish the song's insightful look into rural America. Other highlights include his duet with Joan Baez on "Jim Crow," the haunting "Rural Route" and the ultra Mellencamp-y "My Aeroplane." --Ken Tucker