John Mellencamp 

No Better Than This, John Mellencamp's 21st studio record, is a sparse roots album on the independent label Rounder, and it's nothing like the arena rock that marked his ascension to stardom. (Fans of the Coug's "Jack and Diane" are shit out of luck.) Producer T Bone Burnett recorded the songs in mono, on midcentury equipment, at three locations: Sun Studio in Memphis, Tennessee, where Elvis Presley and Jerry Lee Lewis helped invent rock and roll; the First African Baptist Church in Savannah, Georgia, the oldest black church in the country; and the Gunter Hotel, in San Antonio, where Delta blues legend Robert Johnson recorded in 1936. The album boasts limber rockabilly numbers, plain-spoken love stories, and tales of revenge and manhood told with cowboy grandeur. Mellencamp is opting for smaller venues on his national tour. The Midland isn't tiny, but it provides a warm, resonant atmosphere where the new material can bloom.

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