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John Mellencamp releases comprehensive career retrospective

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Since he burst onto the music scene in 1978, he's gone by many names. John Cougar, John Cougar Mellencamp, and eventually just John Mellencamp. Throughout that time, and the 19 albums that made up his life's work, Mellencamp has played with garage rock, country, folk, blues, and americana while the whole time keeping it within the recognizable blue collar roots that made him a star. Today, Dec. 10, Universal Music is releasing "John Mellencamp: 1978-2012", a monster of a box set containing all 19 of Mellencamp's major label releases, from his self-titled debut to his most recent "No Better Than This."

It may seem like an odd choice for a box set to contain an artist's entire work. After all, most people who are willing to shell out the $130 price tag for this set probably already have most of these albums. But Mellencamp, while releasing a slew of singles like "Jack & Diane", "Pink Houses", and "R.O.C.K in the USA" that keeps him in heavy rotation on classic rock radio, has always been an artist who cared about the craft of an album and listening to the whopping 223 songs that make up "1978-2012" gives you a great roadmap for how his career has evolved throughout the years.

From the rough and tumble bombast of "John Cougar" to the massive hits of "Uh-huh" to the politically charged poetry of "Scarecrow" and the darker lyrical waters of his two recent T-Bone Burnett produced albums "Life, Death, Love, and Freedom" and "No Better Than This", the thread of small town life, blue collar ethics, and the plight of the family farmer runs throughout.

But for fans who may have all of Mellencamps works, there is enough extra material here to be worth purchasing. 12 of the 19 albums feature bonus tracks sourced from the 2005 remasters of his Mercury releases. But the real gem for any Mellencamp lover is the one album that only contains two Mellencamp tracks; the long out of print soundtrack to the John Mellencamp-directed "Falling from Grace." The album features contributions from such esteemed songwriters as John Prine, Janis Ian, Dwight Yoakam, and Nancy Griffith. It's nice to hear these songs get another airing out after so many years on the shelf.

For John Mellencamp superfans, this is an easy sell for the bonus tracks and the "Falling From Grace" soundtrack, but it's an even better buy for someone out there who only knows Mellencamp's hits and wants to build his collection. At less than $7 per album, it's a lot cheaper than buying them individually, and you're sure to find some new favorites nestled alongside "Hurts So Good" and "Our Country."

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