Make no mistake, there is a sound of Indiana. A Mellencamp-influenced sound, and any Hoosier musician around long enough to have played during 1980s heartland rock heydey must find the stuff thick in their veins.
For Dane Clark, who has worked as John Mellencamp‘s drummer for the past 16 years, his new album Postcards from the Hard Road brings together many branches from that Indiana heartland rock tree, through direct ties to Mellencamp (current bandmembers), or by way of Larry Crane, John’s guitar player throughout the 1980s. Twenty years ago, Clark played drums in Crane’s band when the guitar player first split with his former boss.
When Jennie DeVoe joins in on “I Wouldn’t Be Me Without U,” it is the magic of two seasoned Americana performers having fun. “Sweet Temptation ” cuts through with lyrics about opportunities to stray, matched to a blues-rock sound. “Waylon and Willie” is a Steve Earle/Joe Ely redux. The mid-tempo “Down in the Goldmine” – – with Clark working on the downbeat, beautifully dragging the snare just behind the vocals – recreates the Waylon vibe.
Postcards from the Hard Road teeters between rock and a healthy dose of country music, thanks mainly to a ubiquitous Pat Severs’ dobro and steel guitar. Though Clark has limited vocal range, he uses a comfortable John Prine-like restraint to pace the songs, and smartly relies on the crack band carry a heavy load.
Throughout, slices of the Seymour sound of 25 years ago keep on coming. Many of the cuts bring memories of The Lonesome Jubilee, the game-changing album that introduced the dobro and fiddle to the middle America sound. And smartly, there are trusty anthemic chord changes to join a guitar and dobro living together, with lyrics that slide between country music stories and rock and roll defiance.
The record features contributions from Crane, and also DeVoe, who sang backup for Crane when Clark was the drummer. Longtime Indiana engineer Mike Petrow (The Elms) and Static Shack’s Alan Johnson, an Indiana recording studio fixture, both helped sculpt the album. And there are hints of Steve Earle for good reason: Nashville vet Ray Kennedy (one of the Twang Trust collaboraters on Earle’s groundbreaking records) was involved with the recording.
Clark is the reason the record pops; he’s a great rock drummer. He also handles nearly all the acoustic guitar sounds, while bringing in ringers like Mellencamp band members Jon E. Gee (bass), Troye Kinnett (keyboards) and Andy York (guitar and vocals) for a few cuts. Clark even gets harmonica player Mickey Raphael (Willie Nelson’s longtime bandmember) to play on “Robert Johnson.”
While there will always be just one Big Daddy of heartland rock, there is a still a place for disciples of that sound, who can emerge from a studio with a subtly- unique-yet-wholly familiar piece of Indiana rock and roll.