Philadelphia Daily News: No Better Than This Review

Philadelphia Daily News By Jonathan Takiff

I'm not saying this week's works are totally off the mark. But several are clearly challenging expectations, both in material choices and marketing.

FOR STARTERS: Didja' know that John Mellencamp was a down-on-his-luck, old-time country blues and rockabilly storyteller?

The guy's been inching in that direction for a couple of albums, but "No Better Than This" (Rounder, B+) is so stark, so primitive you might think it's recovered treasure from the 1950s.

Fingerpicked tunes like "Right Behind Me" and "A Graceful Fall" could have been written by Mississippi John Hurt, while twang guitar and slap bass rockabilly numbers like the title track might have come from the pen and mouth of a just-getting-started Johnny Cash.

Recorded in mono at three historic locations: America's oldest black church, a hotel room once occupied by Robert Johnson, and the Sun studio where many a great rockabilly cat first howled, the set is especially ripe with got-to-smile-to-keep-from-crying tunes tossed off with a casual demeanor and sonic quality to match.

I started out dreading the premise of "Cougar" as a crotchety old man, but he eventually won me over with the humorous unspooling of "Love at First Sight" and the father-and-son adventure "Easter Eve" and with the sing-along qualities of "Comin' Down the Road" and philosophical "Save Some Time To Dream."