Arkansas Democrat-Gazette: Mellencamp Never Better Than On Mono No Better

In 1991 a boxed set of recordings produced by Phil Spector, Back to Mono, was issued, complete with a Back to Mono button. It’s time to bring back that button as John Mellencamp goes monophonic, using a 55-year-old tape recorder and vintage microphone for a new album of blues, rockabilly, gospel and folk.

Produced by T Bone Burnett, No Better Than This is lean, taut and immediate. To ears accustomed to overproduction and slick arrangements, it will sound primitive ... or refreshing. It was recorded at historic Sun Studio in Memphis, the room at San Antonio’s Gunter Hotel where Robert Johnson was recorded in 1936 and at First African Baptist Church in Savannah, Ga.

Mellencamp’s story-songs contemplate life’s meaning and mortality with lengthy verses and are dressed down in period arrangements and production. Mellencamp sings with conviction and heart. The title song echoes early Johnny Cash; the epic and novelistic “Easter Eve” is a breathtaking story that twists and turns. “Thinking About You” may have you thinking about John Prine. Also strong is the wonderful “Right Behind Me.”