Monday, August 23, 2010

Pssst: Few better than this

Maybe you never cared for John Mellencamp, or maybe you got off the train after hearing "Jack and Diane" for the 1,000th time. The man definitely has his detractors, as we learned again last night while listening to a scathing review of his new album by some mouthy radio know-it-all.

It isn't our job to be Mellencamp apologists, but the reviewer was dead wrong. The album is great, already one of our favorites of the year and possibly the finest of Mellencamp's career.  We shall see. The title, No Better Than This, is certain to rankle Mellencamp foes, and the concept -- recording on an old Ampex tape recorder with a single microphone at three historic locations  -- will be criticized as a gimmick.

So a lot of people, like that radio reviewer, aren't going to give the record a chance.  And isn't that a case of the shits. Because if they took the time to listen, and let bias be bias, they'd have a hard time dismissing No Better Than This.  The locations included the room in Memphis where Sam Phillips first recorded Howlin' Wolf and Elvis Presley, a Baptist church in Savannah that used to house slaves along the Underground Railroad, and a hotel room in San Antonio where Robert Johnson laid down some legendary tracks. So you have that going for you.

All Mellencamp needed to do to make the concept work was assemble a tight band of musicians, including guitarist Marc Ribot and bassist David Roe, write some terrific songs -- which he most certainly did -- and secure the technical wizardry of producer T. Bone Burnett, who also played guitar on some tracks.  Burnett gives vivid detail to the recording venues in the liner notes, closing with: All those ghosts. All those spirits. This is a haunted record.

We can't say that it isn't. We can only say we love the boom-chuck-a sound of a standup bass, clean rockabilly guitar licks and songs that bore down into the human spirit and make us listen to the words. Or maybe we just think it's cool in 2010 to read the words: Recorded in Mono.  No Better Than This is up on the big board as PSSST (Personal Six String Sanctuary Tout) No. 20.

Now check out a video of the title track by clicking on this link:!


  1. I have always enjoyed Mellencamp, Seen him in concert a few times, and he always had the place rockin.... Pink Houses one of my favorites.
    Thanks for sharing the video, great song....That would be me dancing like the gal in the

  2. One mic a "gimmick"? One-a the greatest sounding LPs in history was the Trinity Session by the Cowboy Junkies, recorded in 1988 in a small Canadian church. I supsect some folks may resent Mellencamp 'cause-a his "cowboy" ways, but he captures perfectly the muse of America's Heartland.

  3. The Honest Truth, Rat Now!August 24, 2010 at 10:54 AM

    Oh, c'mon on ... you just like it because a' that girl dancin' on the video!