John Mellencamp with Carlene Carter and Emmylou Harris
Where: Mizner Park Amphitheater, 590 Plaza Real, in Boca Raton When: 7 p.m. Sunday Cost: Tickets cost $39.50-$125 Contact: 561-750-1668 or go to MyBoca.us. tell you that’s not true. It was actually this other [ jerk] at the record company that got furniture tossed at him!’ ” Lipman writes via email. “Ever since that first encounter, I figured it was in my best interest to sell as many records as possible, and don’t get hit with a chair.”
Mellencamp and Carter met a few years ago when Carter sang “Sugar Hill Mountain” on the Mellencamp-penned soundtrack for “Ithaca,” the directorial debut by his then-girlfriend, Meg Ryan. Mellencamp had been friendly with Carter’s mother, June Carter Cash, and her stepfather, Johnny Cash. The pair toured together in 2015 and formed an easy alliance, bonding over their love of American roots music.
Midway through the tour, Mellencamp recalls passing Carter as he was walking off the stage and saying, “‘I think we should make a gospel record together,’ and she said, ‘Oh, that sounds good.’ That’s how it started.”
The plan for the gospel album fell apart after the pair couldn’t agree on the repertoire, but there’s plenty of sin and salvation on “Sad Clowns & Hillbillies,” which Mellencamp recorded at his Belmont Mall studio outside of Bloomington.
“What Kind of Man Am I” — which, along with “You Are Blind,” originally appeared in “Ghost Brothers of Darkland County,” the musical stage drama written by Mellencamp, Stephen King and T Bone Burnett — is a heavy lament that carries the same world-weary weight as Cash’s version of Nine Inch Nails’ “Hurt.” “Sad Clowns,” meanwhile, is a tongue-in-cheek, cautionary tale, waving off any woman who comes too close.
Salvation comes with the Carter- penned, redemption-filled “Damascus Road” and “My Soul’s Got Wings,” a Woody Guthrie lyric that Mellencamp set to music.
Perhaps it’s his heartland roots, but Mellencamp has always excelled at simple stories rather than grand gestures through such hits as “Pink Houses,” “Paper in Fire” and “Small Town.” Carter says it’s a trait his songwriting shares with the music made by her legendary ancestors, the Carter Family.
“As complicated a person as [John] might be,” Carter says, “he does write really catchy. But the content is very real, and I won’t say heavy, but deeper than a little ditty.” Insert “Jack & Diane” joke here.
On the closing track, “Easy Target,” Mellencamp turns to the big picture, adopting a Tom Waitslike growl as he sings about racial and economic inequality. But he resists the notion that the song is depressing.
“There’s a difference between down and observational,” he says. “A down record was ‘Berlin’ by Lou Reed.”