John Mellencamp is nearly the Rodney Dangerfield of rock & roll, getting no respect no matter how much he may deserve it. Throughout the '90s, Mellencamp essentially worked away from the spotlight, crafting a series of solid records without anyone paying attention. He had the occasional hit -- a cover of Van Morrison's "Wild Night," the subtly insistent "Key West Intermizzo (I Saw You First)" -- but he was no longer part of the rock critic discourse the way he was in the '80s with Scarecrow and The Lonesome Jubilee. Such neglect actually helped Mellencamp grow, as his 2001 effort, Cuttin' Heads, proves. This may not be a record that brings chart success, or even critical acclaim, but it does find Mellencamp at a kind of peak, turning out vividly socially conscious roots rock that works not because of the message, but because the music is seductive and sinewy enough to deliver the message. The grooves and riffs are earthy, so much so that when Chuck D drops a rap at the bridge in the title track, it seems natural, not forced; similarly, India.Arie's presence on "Peaceful World" enhances the plea for understanding at the core of the album, instead of distracting from it, and it feels as right as Trisha Yearwood's duet on "Deep Blue Heart." Ultimately, this is a record of small, subtle triumphs, but they are triumphs all the same, finding Mellencamp crafting music that's earthy yet succeeds because of the small details. It's a laid-back record -- even when it rocks hard, it rocks like a bunch of guys having fun on a back porch on a Saturday afternoon -- but that's its charm, since it's natural, real, and unassuming: in short, the kind of record Mellencamp's been trying to make since he shed the Johnny Cougar tag. No, there aren't songs as undeniable as "Lonely Ol' Night" or "Rumble Seat," but there are no slow stretches and it's a true testament to his talents as a craftsman, which is more than enough.
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AllMusic Review by Stephen Thomas Erlewine