No Better Than This
Over the past decade, veteran rocker and activist John Mellencamp has been on a creative roll, crafting some of the most compelling work of his 30+ year career. The concept behind No Better Than This is just as intriguing as the songs. While touring last year, Mellencamp used days off to record tunes he’d written in historically and culturally significant music locations down south. The album was done in two weeks at the renowned Sun Studio/Memphis, First African Baptist Church/Savannah and Gunter Hotel, Rm. 414/San Antonio, where Robert Johnson did signature blues tunes in 1936.
Mellencamp and producer T Bone Burnett made an authentic folk, rockabilly and blues-infused album just like the good old days. Recording in mono without overdubs, they used a 1955 tape recorder and vintage ribbon microphone which a core group – notably longtime guitarist Andy York and violinist Miriam Sturm, plus session guitarist extraordinaire Marc Ribot - huddled around.
The highly impressive results are like taking a trip through a time warp. Both the title track and “Coming Down the Road,” with thumping upright bass and clean guitar lines, steamroll by like fellow Sun clients Johnny Cash and Elvis Presley.
“Don’t Forget About Me” is simple, yet effective. Try not hanging on every word to “Easter Eve,” a riveting folk narrative that involves a father and son who encounter big trouble while out to dinner. Meanwhile, haunting electric guitars on the city in ruins tale “The West End” fit the singer’s dismissive tone perfectly and Sturm’s countryish fiddle work dominates “Right Behind Me,” where Jesus and the devil have prominent roles.