John Mellencamp – No Better Than This (CD review)

John Mellencamp – No Better Than This (Rounder) – CD review –

John Mellencamp has scored ten Top 10 hits over his long career.  But, rather than try and compete with the Lady Gagas of the world, he’s chosen to go in the complete opposite direction,  and in doing so, he’s created a dream album.  Plenty of artists have attempted to go “back to their roots;” Springsteen did it for “Nebraska,” Elvis did it for his “Memphis” album, but no one has done it with as much authenticity as John Mellencamp.

The bulk of the record was done at the legendary Sun studios in Memphis, once the home to Elvis, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis and B.B. King.  Sure, recording there isn’t anything new.  But, Mellencamp chose to lay everything down on No Better Than This live to a vintage reel to reel tape machine using  only a single microphone.  Now, how’s that for old school?  All thirteen tracks were penned by Mellencamp, yet many sound closer to the guys who originally recorded in these studios.  “Coming Down the Road” has that early Johnny Cash feel, complete with slapback bass and clean guitar sound.

The title track sounds like a Billy Lee Riley outtake, while “Each Day of Sorrow” recalls John Lee Hooker’s “One Bourbon, One Scotch, One Beer.”  The one track that music geeks will surely fawn over is “Right Behind Me,” actually recorded in the very same hotel room in San Antonio that Robert Johnson laid down his cryptic tracks, some 80 years previous.  That song, with its echoey fiddle and lyrics about the devil add to the creepy surroundings.  By stripping away all but the bare necessities of music, Mellencamp has turned in an album worthy of a classic. –Tony Peters