Sunday, September 5, 2010

No Better Than This - John Mellencamp

In this day and age, only someone like John Mellencamp can put out a mono and lo-fi album and get away with it. His latest effort, No Better Than This produced by T-Bone Burnett, is all new songs, but they sound like they could've been written and recorded in the early 50's. And this is essentially a 50's record, and it's one of the most 'American' records I've heard in a long time.

Most of the thirteen songs were done in Memphis' Sun Studio, the birthplace of Rock & Roll. John Mellencamp stood where Elvis Presley once stood, and together with his band, did everything in one take, into one mike (therefore the mono sound). Listen to those early Sun records and this album side by side -- the similarity in the sounds is astonishing. You can hear that very distinct reverb in John's voice and the slapping of the bass strings. There's a clear separation of instruments, despite no mixing at all. The 'boom-chica-boom' sound of the drums in Coming Down The Road and No One Cares About Me brings me right back to Johnny Cash. In fact they sound like songs the Man In Black could've sung.

Another historical place used as a recording ground was the first African Baptist Church in Savannah, Georgia; the album's last song, Clumsy Ol' World was done there. Great song, but I was more taken aback by the sound -- absolutely enchanting. The third place was a room in a San Antonio Hotel. Robert Johnson first recorded there -- listen to Right Behind Me and you can almost 'hear' his ghost in the background. And very much alive too are the ghosts of Woody, Hank and Elvis. Haunted record indeed.