New Music / JOHN MELLENCAMP

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No Better Than This (Rounded)

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 21/08/2010 (4486 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

No Better Than This (Rounded)

 

JOHN Mellencamp’s new album might not be historic, but it’s filled with history.

For No Better Than This, Mellencamp, his producer T-Bone Burnett and a band that included Tom Waits’ guitarist Marc Ribot and Johnny Cash stand-up bassist David Roe, travelled to American musical hot spots like Sun Studios, Savannah’s First African Baptist Church (a sanctuary for slaves and a stop on the Underground Railroad in the 19th century) and the Gunter Hotel in San Antonio hotel, where Robert Johnson recorded in 1936, armed with a reel-to-reel tape recorder and a single vintage mic, which everyone gathered around to perform.

It sounds like a gimmick — it’s even in mono — but the process was perfectly suited to the material, a collection of old-timey roots, bluegrass, rockabilly and folk that sounds distinctly like Mellencamp, yet nothing at all like the hit-making blue-collar rocker has ever released before.

The album opens on a philosophical note with the laidback Take Some Time to Dream before he turns his attention to stories, detailing the gritty reality of people who live in The West End, relating the twangy tale of a down-and-outer on No One Cares About Me, describ­ing the fight between Jesus and the Devil for someone’s soul on the slow cooker Right Be­hind Me and capturing that Sun Records vibe on the shuffling, yet wistful, title track, which turns into straight up nostalgia on the John Prine homage, Thinking About You.

Freed of major-label constrictions and the need to write hits, Mellencamp appears to be following his muse wherever it takes him, and the result is an album that will go down in his personal history as a turning point in his recording career. 4 stars

— Rob Williams

 

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