Heartland singer-songwriter John Mellencamp launched his 80-date “Plain Spoken” tour Jan. 21 in his home state of Indiana. The tour, featuring opening act Carlene Carter, reaches the Saenger Theatre on Tuesday.
Mellencamp’s 2015 North American sojourn follows the September release of his new album, “Plain Spoken.”
The New York Times praised “Plain Spoken,” saying, “The music looks back toward … (Bob Dylan’s) ‘Blood On The Tracks,’ with strummed guitars, brushes on the drums and neck-rack harmonica. The words ponder trouble, power, love, God, freedom and mortality.”
“Singing with gruff directness,” Rolling Stone wrote of the album, “the recent divorcé deals with relationship struggles (“Tears In Vain”), as well as broader societal and moral worry (the hard-driving “Lawless Times”). … It’s a lonely old night, as he used to sing, and a raw one.”
Mellencamp, then known as John Cougar, released his first hit in 1979, “I Need A Lover.” He became an early star of MTV after the release of his 1982 album, “American Fool.” It featured future Mellencamp classics “Hurts So Good” and, one of his working-class anthems, “Jack & Diane.”
His ’80s winning streak continued with “Crumblin Down,” “The Authority Song,” “Pink Houses,” “Small Town,” “R.O.C.K. In The U.S.A.” and “Lonely Ol Night.”
The heart attack Mellencamp experienced on tour in 1994 sidelined him for a few years. He returned in 1996 with a new album, “Mr. Happy Go Lucky,” and resumed touring the next year.
The numerous awards and honors that came Mellencamp’s way in the decades that followed validated his classic work and his continuing activity in the studio and on the road.
Mellencamp received the Billboard Century Award in 2001; the Woody Guthrie Award in 2004; the Americana Music Association’s Lifetime Achievement Award in 2010; and the Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame inducted him into its number in 2008. He’s also a Grammy winner and an 11-time Grammy nominee.
A native of Seymour, Indiana, Mellencamp continues to live in Bloomington.
“I’m trying to write for people my age,” Mellencamp, 63, told Esquire. “And my inspiration over the years has changed dramatically. From being 22, 23 years old, my inspiration was the Rolling Stones. Now my inspiration is John Steinbeck, Tennessee Williams, Faulkner, Shakespeare. It has nothing to do with what I started out to do.”
Prior to the release of “Plain Spoken,” the singer told Rolling Stone he was devising a show that could work in theaters, such as The Saenger, and arenas, too.
“Like anything else, if you do too much of one or the other, you get burned out,” he said.
Last year, Mellencamp told Rolling Stone that he’d be making fresh arrangements of his old songs for his 2015 tour.
“You’ll recognize the songs, of course, but it won’t be the arrangement that you’re familiar with,” he said. “It will become a whole new song.”
In 2014, the singer signed a lifetime recording contract with Republic Records. The label issued “Plain Spoken,” his 22nd album, and will release every Mellencamp project that follows.