GateHouse News Service: No Better Than This Review

Gatehouse News Service By Peter Chianca

When Mellencamp named his latest album “No Better Than This” (his debut on the Massachusetts-based Rounder Records label), he wasn’t kidding. Recorded in mono using a 55-year-old tape recorder and vintage microphone, these songs build on the thoughtful but dark meditations of 2008’s “Life, Death, Love and Freedom,” but are ultimately more life-affirming. They make for Mellencamp’s most improbably compelling album since 1984’s “Scarecrow.”

Mellencamp and his band recorded the album at musically historical locations, like Sun Studio in Memphis and Room 414 of the Gunter Hotel in San Antonio, where Robert Johnson made his first recordings in 1936, and the album feels alive with the ghosts of those earlier artists. It’s bare-bones but not stark — songs like “Save Some Time to Dream” and “A Graceful Fall” glimmer with a Hank Williams charm and rural hopefulness.

Unlike on his last album, where on “Longest Days” he sings about how “sometimes you get sick and you don’t get better,” this one seems devoted to the idea of somehow carrying on — even a downbeat song like “No One Cares About Me” ends with a declaration that “I still think it’ll work out OK.” With “No Better Than This,” Mellencamp has worked out a low-key triumph.