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MELLENCAMP DISCUSSION => Articles => Topic started by: WildNight on August 14, 2010, 12:00:32 am

Title: NBTT Review
Post by: WildNight on August 14, 2010, 12:00:32 am

Pop, Etc: John Mellencamp's latest CD rich, authentic
John Mellencamp, "No Better Than This" ****


Touring with Bob Dylan may be rubbing off on John Mellencamp. "No Better Than This," which hits stores on Tuesday, recalls the latter-day, roots-conscious Dylan of "Love and Theft," "Time Out of Mind," and "Good As I Been to You."

He even approximates Dylan's gravelly delivery on songs like "Right Behind Me," an old-timey, run-from-the-devil tale, the lovely reverie "Thinking About You," and yearning "Don't Forget About Me."

What sets this apart is how it was recorded. With veteran roots producer T. Bone Burnett, Mellencamp and his rustic band set up at three historic Southern locales.

They cut most tracks at Sun Studios, where Sam Phillips recorded Elvis and Howlin Wolf. They recorded at the First African Baptist Church in Savannah, which was also a stop on the Underground Railway. They tracked one song -- "Right Behind Me" -- in Room 414 of San Antonio's Gunter Hotel, where legendary Robert Johnson cut "Dust My Broom."

Using vintage equipment, including a 1965 Ampex reel-to-reel recorder and lone microphone, they cut everything in mono. The record's dusty, cracklin' vibe suggests Depression-era field recordings.

Mellencamp and Burnett conjure up an old-timey (yet timeless) feel. It's like coming across an old family album crammed with fading, sepia-toned photos that still speak to you.

The bend-over-backward feel for authenticity may suggest this is a deadly serious record, and yes, some songs are bleak. "No Better" spins a few mortality tales about people who are down and out, have no faith and have given up.

Yet Mellencamp balances those with slice-of-life uppers like the chugging, rockabilly-flavored title cut, the father-son tale (with a twist), "Easter Eve," and wise closer, "Clumsy Ol' World."

The rich music draws on folk, country, bluegrass, rockabilly, Western swing and the ghost of Johnny Cash. But history is no dead end for Mellencamp and his crack band; they play with spunk and a winning, hearty spirit. In the end, "No Better Than This" is a stirring, lively, life-affirming work.

His rock fans may miss the days of "R.O.C.K. in the U.S.A." but with backwoods work like this, Mellencamp would fit in nicely at the Great Blue Heron Music Festival.