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No Better Than This

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Album Review

The first thing that grabs the listener about John Mellencamp's No Better Than This is its sound: mono — recorded live to an Ampex 601 tape recorder circa 1955, with a single microphone without mixing or overdubs. It's warmth and presence are immediate and engulfing. Mellencamp and T-Bone Burnett cut the album while on tour supporting, Life Death Love and Freedom, Mellencamp's celebrated precursor. This album was cut in some very famous locales: First African Baptist Church in Savannah, GA (the first African American Christian church in North America), Sun Studios in Memphis, and in Room 414 of the Gunter Hotel in San Antonio, TX, where Robert Johnson recorded "Stones in My Passway" in 1936. While Mellencamp's last album was celebrated for its wonderfully crafted songs, it nonetheless reflected Burnett's dictatorially heavy-handed production style. This set feels far more like the artist. The songs are rooted in country, rockabilly, folk, country-gospel, and an even rawer Midwestern rock—Mellencamp's brand. The band is equal parts his standard road group and Burnett's studio crew, but the latter plays more of a supporting role than a guiding one; this set, with its brilliantly pruned songwriting, is Mellencamp at his focused best.

The album's opener, "Save Some Time to Dream," is from the older, wiser songwriter who gave us "We Are the People," "Jackie Brown," "Human Wheels," and is a skeletal part two of "Your Life Is Now." These historic locales reflect the tunes somewhat — especially the driving title track, "Coming Down the Road," and "Each Day of Sorrow" that come from, respectively, the rockabilly of Carl Perkins, early Elvis, and Johnny Burnette. "No One Cares About Me" is a pure Mellencamp lyric, but its sound is reminiscent of the Sun-era Johnny Cash. The spooky banjo of the minor-key blues that makes up "The West End" touches on the folk-blues Bob Dylan utilized on "The Ballad of Hollis Brown." "A Graceful Fall" is electric hillbilly blues. "Love at First Sight," with Mellencamp accompanied only by an acoustic guitar, is among the finest love songs he's ever written. "Don't Forget About Me" is a country ballad that acts as its mirror image and resonates deeply. He may be looking back at some earlier styles of music that influenced him, but these songs feel invigorated, unfettered; melodically and lyrically astute. He possesses an independent streak in abundance; he is making music only for himself now; as a result, he's in a league of his own. No Better Than This proves that good songs need very little to communicate instructive narratives and complex emotions, and that primitive recording methods are still sometimes the best ones. [The album is also available on vinyl.]

Customer Reviews

Finally a Mellencamp album to buy

I'll admit that I'm not much of a Mellencamp fan & got tired of him in the 80's. That said, when I read that he recorded in the Gunter, I had to at least give it a listen just because I love the other music that was recorded in that very room. I'm so glad I did. I can't quit listening to it now.
The sound is stripped down, raw & haunting. I love the fact there is very minimal production and mixing on this. It's as if the ghosts of those who proceeded in these hallowed places posesed him as he made this incredible album.
If you're a fan of deep emotional outpouring music, you're in for a treat.

REALLY? Is this what it's come to?

I'm a long- time admirer. This is NOT his best. He's trying to act like he doesn't care about selling records...or maybe he just doesn't.
His voice is unappealing now and the songs meander without any substance. If this was his first record, he'd now be selling coffee at Starbucks!
Please write songs that touch our lives again John, and throw in a little melody will ya?

Mellencamp

Saw him in Denver last night and you other guys who have written comments, couldn't be more wrong!!
His songs(new) are from the heart ! Sellout? Why, he writes with passion, from the heart and soul, he DOESN'T need to sell records. He has all he wants, he's Happy! So am I and that's what counts!!............mwp

Biography

Born: October 7, 1951 in Seymour, IN

Genre: Rock

Years Active: '70s, '80s, '90s, '00s, '10s

Throughout his career, John Mellencamp has had to fight, whether it was for the right to record under his own name or for respect as an artist. Of course, he never made it easy on himself. Mellencamp began his career in the late '70s as a Bruce Springsteen clone called Johnny Cougar. As his career progressed, his music became more distinctive, developing into a Stonesy blend of hard rock and folk-rock. His musical development coincided with his growth in popularity — by the time "Hurts So Good"...
Full Bio