Pop & Rock
05 JAN 11 CHRIS SLAWECKI
No Better Than This, John Mellencamp's debut for Rounder Records, was recorded by producer T-Bone Burnett on the sites of historic recordings of Robert Johnson and Elvis Presley. In his liner notes, Burnett wrote, "This is a haunted record."
The unpretentious charm of these 13 new originals, still available as part of Concord's holiday gift promotion, sounds like the distilled essence of relationships, the inspiration for so much of Mellencamp's work: Solo voice and guitar paint its simple, beautiful portrait of "Love At First Sight," while "Save Some Time To Dream" offers advice to Jack & Diane's kids (or grandkids).
Yet it seems fair to wonder if No Better Than This might have painted this renowned visual artist into a corner. Lyrically and instrumentally, it's hard to imagine a more basic, primal record. It was played and recorded live in one room, using one microphone and one tape recorder. The only way he could give you more low-tech, intimate music would be to bring some friends over to play at your house.
Even if curious about where he goes from here, rest assured that where Mellencamp's currently at sounds pretty damn good. "A Graceful Fall" resounds the sound and spirit of the timeless blues "Midnight Special" and the rest of No Better Than This echoes an era when rock 'n' roll as a name didn't exist, but its gloriously American blend of country and blues and country blues, all in the same space and time, all in the same spirit, sure did.