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QUICK SPINS: June 2010

John Mellencamp, Black Robot and more

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* John MellencampOn the Rural Route 7609 (Mercury/Island/Universal)

If there’s any doubt remaining whether John Mellencamp is one of rock’s best singer/songwriters of the past 30 years, then On the Rural Route 7609 (due June 15) should take care of that.

This four-disc set, packaged in a sturdy, photo album-sized format, features select key Mellencamp hits in their original, demo and re-recorded forms, but the focus is on album tracks, among them “Jackie Brown,” one of the best songs he’s ever written. It’s great to finally hear Mellencamp’s version of “Colored Lights,” which he wrote for The Blasters. Lyrics, liner notes by Anthony DeCurtis and track-by-track commentary from Mellencamp round out this unconventional (yet worthwhile) boxed set.

* Black RobotBlack Robot (Rocket Science/Formosa Records)

Imagine if the Bon Scott-led AC/DC took a stab at J.J. Cale‘s “Cocaine,” and that’s what you get with Black Robot‘s version that’s on the band’s self-titled debut (out now).
Founded by former Buckcherry bassist Jonathan “JB” Brightman, Black Robot also taps other hard-rock bands for inspiration: “Momma Don’t Cry” has a Led Zeppelin-esque groove and Jimmy Page-style riffery, while “Girls Kissing Girls” will probably have the guys in Motley Crue wondering how they didn’t come up with this shout-along chorus (and title) first.
Black Robot doesn’t break any new ground or offer any surprises on its debut, but the band has enough chops and tunes to get the job done.
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* Neil Young: Long May You Run – The Illustrated History by Daniel Durchholz and Gary Graff (Voyageur Press)

As the title suggests, this Neil Young book is loaded with photos from throughout his career, as well as concert posters, ticket stubs, album covers and 45 picture sleeves. But thanks to the straightforward writing by Daniel Durchholz (a Rolling Stone veteran) and Gary Graff (Billboard), who effectively use previously published remarks from Young and others as part of their narrative thread, Long May You Run makes for a well-rounded, good read, too.
Young’s Motown experience with the Mynah Birds (whose members included Rick James) is detailed in a tight sidebar, and the so-called feud between Young and Lynyrd Skynyrd and his legal battle with David Geffen are given the same treatment.
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* Various ArtistsGuitar Masters Vol. 3 & 4: Les Paul Dedication (BHP Music)

It’s a fact worth repeating: Music — especially rock ‘n’ roll — would not be what it is today without Les Paul‘s innovations. This two-disc set (out now) of wall-to-wall guitar workouts is dedicated to the late Paul, and the 25-track collection features contributions from such A-list names as Jeff Beck, Steve Vai and Allan Holdsworth. Standouts include Gary Hoey‘s rendition of the Beck song “El Becko.”

— By Chris M. Junior