Album: John Mellencamp, No Better Than This (Rounder)

4.00

The argument between analogue and digital recording methods is neatly summarised this week by comparing this simple, stripped-down offering from John Mellencamp with the second album by Klaxons, on which the songs are hidden away beneath layers of digital blah, track after track of guitar and keyboard and effect piled upon the material until its spine snaps, and all that remains is some amorphous noise begging for your attention.

No Better Than This was recorded with T-Bone Burnett and his crack session crew, using just a single microphone and a vintage tape recorder over 50 years old. Upping the retro-Americana ante even further, the songs were all recorded at significant heritage locations, such as the First African Baptist Church in Savannah, Georgia, which as its name suggests was the very first black church in America; Room 404 at the Gunter Hotel in San Antonio, where hardwood flooring was temporarily relaid over the carpet to acquire similar acoustics to those prevailing when Robert Johnson laid down his first historic recordings there; and Sun Studio in Memphis, location of a thousand magical moments, where Burnett's band set up according to floor markings determined decades earlier by Sam Phillips for optimal sound quality. You don't tempt those kinds of comparisons unless you're pretty sure of your material: if the songs are no good, there's nowhere to hide.

Fortunately for Mellencamp, his songs are steeped in much the same Southern stew of guilt and belief, despair and faith, rural dust and hell-raising devilry that coursed through Robert Johnson and Jerry Lee Lewis and the early Baptist congregations when they raised their voices in these same locations, so the effect is never spurious. And the songs are well-chosen for their situation: what could be more apt in the Gunter Hotel than "Right Behind Me", a song about satanic possession, set to lone guitar and austere wisps of violin? Likewise, the church seems an appropriate place to celebrate affection and the co-dependency of marital fidelity in songs such as "Love at First Sight" and "Thinking about You".

But it's the material recorded at Sun Studio that forms the bulk of the album, and traverses the widest range of emotions, from the jaunty rockabilly of "No One Cares about Me" and the title-track, driven along like a horse-drawn buggy by the slap of David Roe's string bass and Jay Bellerose's sit-up-and-beg drum groove, to the suicidal despair of "A Graceful Fall" and the bar-room contretemps so baldly laid out over the wan banjo of "Easter Eve". Mellencamp's delivery throughout has the stain and grain of old tobacco and bootleg whiskey, while Burnett's careful touch ensures that each song is captured with maximum presence, a concern that often seem surplus to requirements in the digital realm, something to be hopefully faked later in the mix. No Better Than This is exactly that, the kind of album that reminds you of the power and immediacy that used to be not just integral to, but the beating heart of, popular music.

DOWNLOAD THIS Save Some Time to Dream; No Better Than This; Right Behind Me; Coming Down the Road

Arts and Entertainment

Filming to begin on two new series due to be aired on Dave from next year

TV

Arts and Entertainment
Kit Harington plays MI5 agent Will Holloway in Spooks: The Greater Good

'You can't count on anyone making it out alive'film
Arts and Entertainment
War veteran and father of Peter and Laust Thoger Jensen played by Lars Mikkelson

TVBBC hopes latest Danish import will spell success

Arts and Entertainment
Carey Mulligan in Far From The Madding Crowd
FilmCarey Mulligan’s Bathsheba would fit in better in The Hunger Games
Arts and Entertainment
Pandas-on-heat: Mary Ramsden's contribution is intended to evoke the compound the beasts smear around their habitat
Iart'm Here But You've Gone exhibition has invited artists to produce perfumes
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

    Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

    Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

    Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
    China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

    China's influence on fashion

    At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
    Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

    The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

    Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
    Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

    Rainbow shades

    It's all bright on the night
    'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

    Bread from heaven

    Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
    Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

    How 'the Axe' helped Labour

    UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
    Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

    The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

    A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
    'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

    Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

    Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

    The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
    Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

    Vince Cable exclusive interview

    Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
    Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

    Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

    Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
    Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

    Everyone is talking about The Trews

    Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
    Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

    It's time for my close-up

    Meet the man who films great whites for a living