John Mellencamp No Better Than This on 2LP Set
Critically Acclaimed 2010 Set Produced by T Bone Burnett and Recorded on Vintage Equipment
Songs Captured in 3 Legendary Music Locations: Mono Feel Suits Rootsy Vibes
Mellencamp Joined by Marc Ribot, Jay Bellerose, and Other Iconic Instrumentalists
A Must-Hear on Vinyl: One of the Year's Best (and Best-Sounding) Records!
No Better Than This is a phenomenal album of all new original material from John Mellencamp recorded during his minor league ball park tour with Bob Dylan and Willie Nelson. Produced by T Bone Burnett who also collaborated with Mellencamp on the much-lauded Life Death Love and Freedom, the album was recorded on vintage equipment, a 55-year-old Ampex tape recorder with just one microphone in Savannah at the First African Baptist Church, in Memphis at Sun Studios and in San Antonio in room 414 of the Gunter Hotel.
Mellencamp wrote the thirteen songs included on the album during a thirteen-day span last spring. “I was tightly focused,” he related, “I got up every day and wrote and wrote and wrote.” The songs reflect various American traditions including blues, folk, western, gospel, rockabilly and country and address such themes as the need for hope, the nature of relationship and narratives that recount extraordinary occurrences in everyday life.
As far as the recording locations are concerned, they were chosen based on cultural and music history, each providing a sense of place for the respective sessions. The First African Baptist Church 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. Mellencamp, who has a residence in the area, has long been familiar with the church and the role it played in the Savannah community. He and his wife Elaine were baptized there before the sessions commenced.
While Sun Studios actually is a working recording facility, its equipment has been updated since the days of Elvis Presley, Carl Perkins, Johnny Cash and Jerry Lee Lewis so Mellencamp’s team used the Ampex machine and established a makeshift recording booth in a construction shed in a vacant lot next door. Mellencamp and his musicians did, dutifully, arrange themselves on the studio floor in accordance with markings that had been laid down by Sam Phillips many years before for optimal presence.
Room 414 of the Gunter Hotel in San Antonio is where Robert Johnson first recorded for Brunswick Records in November of 1936; Mellencamp’s version of Johnson’s “Stones In My Pass Way” was the first track on Trouble No More, an album of blues and folk songs released in 2003. The room has been carpeted in the intervening years so a hardwood floor was placed over the carpet to better approximate the ambience heard on Johnson’s records. Mellencamp sang facing the corner of the room that Johnson had almost 74 years earlier.
After the sessions were completed, Burnett took the mono tapes back to Los Angeles and mastered them, per Mellencamp, “in a way that made them coherent.” Sequencing of the album was accomplished by Burnett in a moment that could be likened to an epiphany. Mellencamp was present when his producer recited the running order of all 13 songs in a moment of inspired spontaneity.
"It's the type of back-to-basics album that helped resurrect Bob Dylan’s career in 1997, albeit less obsessed with mortality and dustier in execution. Akin to 2008’s Life Death Live and Freedom, Mellencamp’s latest offering provides ample reason to tune back into an artist that, after two decades of making declarative Heartland rock and pop, is determined to leave his stamp on roots music—record sales be damned. It’s a stance that demands respect, a decision grounded in integrity and, as it happens, engaging authenticity."
--Bob Gendron, TONE Audio, Issue 31
"Whatever you think of Mellencamp, this is the kind of record that will compel a re-evaluation, an out-of-leftfield shot that mostly works because of its modesty, shagginess and humor – qualities not normally associated with the singer in the past. The mono recordings may initially sound like dusty transmissions from another planet to ears attuned to highly compressed modern productions, which create an unnatural relationship between voice and instruments."
--Greg Kot, Chicago Tribune, August 12, 2010
John Mellencamp No Better Than This Track Listing:
1. Save Some Time To Dream
2. The West End
3. Right Behind Me
4. A Graceful Fall
5. No Better Than This
6. Thinking About You
7. Coming Down The Road
8. No One Cares About Me
9. Love At First Sight
10. Don't Forget About Me
11. Each Day of Sorrow
12. Easter Eve
13. Clumsy Ol' World