Monday, August 23, 2010
Pssst: Few better than this
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: