At 47 years old, John Mellencamp may be a little gray for a complete musical rebirth. But after 14 albums for longtime label Mercury, the notoriously surly roots-rocker got fed up with the powers that be and jumped ship to Columbia—such expert Dylan and Springsteen handlers—who promised to promote Mellencamp with the respect and attention he deserved. With his self-titled 17th disc, Mellencamp uses his new blood to focus on old Midwestern laments, and what he produces is miles away from his last effort, the loopcentric, Junior Vasquez-produced Mr. Happy Go Lucky. Hell, even Jack and Diane show up for the back-porch party with a cameo on “Eden Is Burning” (yep, they’re still together, but the second decade of their relationship is proving to be much less magical than the first). And while Mellencamp also returns to the natural jangle of percussion-heavy rock ‘n’ roll (last seen on Scarecrow), the best part of this homecoming is the endless parade of sweet pop hooks. The first single, “Your Life Is Now,” plays like an older, mellower “Lonely Ol’ Night,” and “I’m Not Running Anymore” is a country-fried samba that begs to be aired out in a dance club. And if you’re still not convinced that the self-proclaimed Lil’ Bastard is having the time of his middle-age, check out the carnival punch of “Miss Missy,” featuring former Heartbreaker drummer Stan Lynch and former Guns N’ Roses guitarist Izzy Stradlin setting a breakneck speed that only a rejuvenated small-town boy from Indiana could handle.—Sean Daly