At first the record companies wanted Bruce Springsteen to be the “New” Bob Dylan, a storyteller with a lot of words in his songs.   When he hit it big with rock, they weren’t enthused about him going back to his roots, but he had earned it, and did.   For John “Cougar” Mellencamp, they wanted the glam-packaged rocker, and weren’t enthused about him going back to his roots.   Too bad, he had also earned the right to control his career.   When you discuss modern musical storytellers, it’s a short list of artists like Dylan, Bruce, Neil Young, Tom Waits, and John Mellencamp.   No Better Than This, his 25th release, is his interpretation of the music that inspired him.  

This compilation of original songs was recorded in the basement of the First African Baptist Church in Savannah, Georgia, at Sam Phillips Sun Studios in Memphis, and room 414 at the Gunter Hotel in San Antonio where Robert Johnson recorded in 1936.   Producer T-Bone Burnett basically followed John around with John’s 1955 Ampex 601 tape recorder, and an RCA ribbon mic to capture JM’s interpretation of early blues, gospel, rural folk music, and a little bit of rockabilly.  

13 songs written in 13 days, John and his wife getting baptized in the historic church he recorded in.   Creepy?   Spooky? Haunted?   Ever watch those Ghost encounter/hunter stories on cable?   The disc has an eerie, but cool sound to it.   It does remind you of newly discovered tapes of a blues artist made decades ago, acoustic guitar, a speck of fiddle and electrified guitar, minimal drums and bass effects.   He is also working with Stephen King on the score for a play titled Ghost Brothers of Darkland County.   On the brighter side, in addition to working with Willie Nelson promoting the Farm Aid events, John is heading 1 Matters, an effort to help the homeless.  

It’s unique, a bit spooky, and as advertised, maybe a little haunted.   It makes you tap along with it; it somehow takes over your available brain space.   You start to play it repeatedly.   How can U resist?  

By R.M. Engelman

[Rating: 3.5/5]

Leave a Reply