November 16, 2010 – No Better Than This

Time for a periodic music review. John Mellencamp’s latest album No Better than This is a throwback to another time.  The album is a throwback to a time when the music was more important than the production methods.  The album was recorded with a vintage  55 year-old Ampex tape recorder with just one microphone and released in mono.

The album was recorded in three historical locations. First, in Sun Studios in Memphis where he and his musicians  dutifully arranged themselves on the studio floor in accordance with markings that had been laid down by Sam Phillips many years before for optimal acoustics.

Second, in Savannah’s First African Baptist Church which is the first Black church in North America- dating to pre-revolutionary times. The original congregation and ministry were slaves; the church, in fact, provided sanctuary to runaways before emancipation.

And finally in Room 414 of the Gunter Hotel in San Antonio where Robert Johnson first recorded in 1936. Mellencamp sang facing the corner of the room that Johnson had almost 74 years earlier.

As for the music, all the songs are written by Mellencamp, although there is some serious channeling of Woody Guthrie, Bob Dylan, John Prine.  While the album holds together well, some of the songs have serious folk, country, rockabilly, and blues feel.

While the songs were all written the past few year, if you didn’t know better, you’d think they were just-found songs written by Hank Williams, Woody Guthrie, and Dylan.

John reminds us on the first song to

Save some time to dream
‘Cause your dream could save us all

one year ago…”High Hopes on Oprah.com”