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John Mellencamp 

Freedom's Road (Universal Republic)

Universal revived the Republic logo -- last seen in the '30s and '40s for a series of B-movie westerns -- for Mellencamp's new album, and it ain't a bad match. Like the cowboy heroes of yesteryear, Mellencamp still believes that hard-working, honest people can eventually triumph over the forces of evil. He paints a realistic portrait of modern America with hard-hitting, guitar-heavy tunes and lyrics bristling with righteous anger. "Ghost Towns Along the Highway" is a bleak picture of the cities destroyed by globalization; "Jim Crow," a duet with Joan Baez, is a tune about the subtle racism that still plagues us; and "Our Country" is a soaring anthem for everyone who still believes in the American dream. The climax comes in the track hidden at the end of the album. "Rodeo Clown" may be the angriest song yet written about Bush's Iraq adventure, with a lyric that indicts the "blood on the mouths of all lies and liars."

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