7:30 p.m. Jan. 23 at the Louisville Palace, 625 South Fourth St. in Louisville. $42-129.50. 1-800-745-3000. Louisvillepalace.com.
7:30 p.m. Jan. 24 at the Aronoff Center for the Arts, 650 Walnut St. in Cincinnati. $39.50-$118.50. (513) 721-3344. Cincinnatiarts.org/aronoff-center.
"I am a troubled man," sings John Mellencamp sings in a tobacco-stained voice at the onset of his 22nd and newest album, Plain Spoken. To fans of the veteran Hoosier, songsmith and Farm Aid co-founder, this is not exactly news. For the better part of three decades, he has paraded an unsettled view of America and, quite often, himself in front of a devout pop public.
Sometimes such examination has gone hand in hand with intense rock 'n' roll urgings, as on his landmark album Scarecrow, which marks its 30th anniversary this year. More recently, though, Mellencamp has filtered his views through leaner, acoustic frameworks aided by Americana kingpin T Bone Burnett.
On Plain Spoken, Mellencamp and Burnett team for the third time on 12 songs that cast world-weary glances in all directions. "I've always found trouble, even at my best," Mellencamp, 62, sings on the album opener, Troubled Man. Throughout Plain Spoken, such trouble involves financial, political and theological thievery, even though the resulting music plays out in decidedly non-rock 'n' roll fashion, with textures of mandolin, fiddle, guitar and brushed percussion.
Mellencamp doesn't spare himself from the folky brawl, either. The whispery, wintry Tears in Vain echoes a recent divorce with guitar twang that seems to ring in from another county along with an exhausted, defeated vocal that wears its war-torn tone like a badge of honor.
How will such brooding introspection transfer to the stage? This weekend, we can find out with concerts in Louisville and Cincinnati. The performances are the second and third dates of a massive tour that opened Wednesday in South Bend. It will keep Mellencamp on the road through the summer before ending in Indianapolis in August. There is no Lexington date on the tour, and Mellencamp hasn't played here since a March 1988 show at Rupp Arena.
Lexington native Mike Wanchic, the only holdover from Mellencamp's commercial heyday in the '80s, will again be co-guitarist.
The tour will undoubtedly dig into the more outward rock treasures from Mellencamp's past, but the singer seems determined to talk up Plain Spoken, so to speak, this year. A ticket bought for any show on the tour comes with a downloadable copy of the album.
If you plan to take in either of this weekend's performances, be advised that tickets are scarce. As of this writing, only single seats remain for the shows.
Back for Mo'
When last we left the blues-folk-pop ambassador Keb' Mo', he was playing a sold-out February concert at the Lexington Opera House that included previews of tunes from his album BLUESAmericana, which was still two months away from release.
Here we are now, not even a year later, and Mo' is back for an encore Opera House show on Jan. 28, and there are three Grammy nominations for the record (7:30 p.m., $45.50). For tickets, call (859) 233-3535 or go to Lexingtonoperahouse.com.
In this weekend's Living Saturday section, Mo' discusses how legendary comedian Richard Pryor was an unlikely inspiration for the album and what happens when Mavis Staples calls on you for a concert.
As a bonus, The Musical Box has posted a detailed and heartfelt tribute from Mo' to the artist who was a career-long inspiration and friend: the late Joe Cocker. Look for that at Musicalbox.bloginky.com.