Pop & Rock

Go Back In Time


John Mellencamp's new Rounder release No Better Than This sounds like a dusty old LP you may have stumbled upon while digging through the attic at your grandfather's farmhouse. That's because Mellencamp and visionary producer T Bone Burnett went old school when recording the album. Way old school.

In an effort to conjure the classic sound of mid-century recordings, Mellencamp, his band and Burnett recorded each of the 13 mono tracks live on a vintage Ampex tape recorder using a single microphone. Before the advent of slick studios, this is how music was recorded -- from grizzled bluesmen of yesteryear to early Elvis and Beatles tracks.

Mellencamp took it a step further by recording in historic locations: Sun Studios in Memphis, where Presley, Johnny Cash and others made some of their most timeless records; the First African Baptist Church in Savannah, the oldest black church in North America; and Room 414 at the Gunter Hotel in San Antonio, where the first recordings of blues legend Robert Johnson where made.

Burnett also worked a similar magic on Elvis Costello's Secret, Profane And Sugarcane. The songs on No Better Than This are a solid collection of rock, country and blues, all paired with Mellencamp's signature lyrical perspective. The title track in particular is a foot-stomping rockabilly romp. You can hear the double-bass player's hands slapping the neck of his instrument, just as you would at a Midwest hootenany. The little touches, the beautiful imperfections of recording this way infuse the songs with history, honesty and reverence.

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