No Better Than This is steeped in musical history. Mellencamp and producer T Bone Burnett recorded the album at landmark places around the country: in a Baptist church in Georgia, in Memphis’s famous studios, and in San Antonio’s Gunter Hotel, where bluesman Robert Johnson held his first recording session. Stripped-down songs like “Right Behind Me” (based on Johnson’s hellhound-on-my-tail theme) and “Thinking About You” (a ballad about being in love) sound like they come from another era, and it’s a sound that fits Mellencamp’s husky voice and straightforward guitar playing. (Maybe Mellencamp, who’s spent the past couple of summers on the road with Bob Dylan and Willie Nelson, was inspired by his tour mates’ no-frills approach to record-making.) There’s a real sense of joy to No Better Than This, but somber cuts like “Save Some Time to Dream” and “No One Cares About Me” also reveal some deep digging by Mellencamp.
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