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John Mellencamp takes fresh approach with new album, tour

of the Oakland Press

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John Mellencamp is accompanying his unique new album, “No Better Than This,” with a unique kind of concert.

“I’ve never done anything like this before,” the veteran Indiana rocker says of his current show. The evening starts with a documentary of the making of the album by filmmaker Kurt Marcus. Then Mellencamp combines a stripped-down acoustic set with his band, a solo segment and then a fully electrified rock set, mixing the new material with greatest hits such as “Cherry Bomb,” “Jack and Diane,” “Small Town,” “Pink Houses” and “R.O.C.K. in the U.S.A.”

“It’s like the old Moondog shows Alan Freed did,” Mellencamp, 59, explains. “There was a movie and then three for four bands played, and that’s what you got. Well that’s what you get here, except it’s all me. You’ll get three different types of John Mellencamp — and you’ll get a movie.”

Produced by Grammy Award-winner T-Bone Burnett, “No Better Than This,” Mellencamp’s 25th studio album, is just as different of a project. It was recorded with a single microphone and a 55-year-old Ampex reel-to-reel recorder bought for $175 on eBay, and it was done at historical sites around the country. Mellencamp and Burnett set up shop during the summer of 2009 at Sun Studios in Memphis, Tenn., in Room 414 of the Gunter Hotel in San Antonio, where Robert Johnson made his first recordings in November 1936, and in the First African Baptist Church in Savannah, Ga., the inaugural black church in America and a stop on the Underground Railroad during the Civil War.

The result is an album that sounds like no other released this year, and while it’s certainly not the kind of stuff of which hit singles or platinum records are made, Mellencamp — who’s sold more than 40 million albums and scored 22 Top 40 hits — says that kind of success is no longer a priority for him.

“I’ve come to the conclusion that any record I put out now is really just a calling card,” he notes. “I don’t really anticipate selling a bunch of them because people don’t buy them anymore. They’re calling cards to let people know I’m still writing songs and I’m still current and that I’m not an oldies act and I will never be an oldies act and there won’t be any ‘Happy Together Tour’ for John Mellencamp.

“That’s nothing against the Turtles or Mark Lindsay or those guys that do that. I loved Paul Revere & the Raiders, loved them, but I don’t want to do that. I would rather step in the footsteps of Woody Guthrie and Bob Dylan and Willie Nelson.”

John Mellencamp performs at 6:45 p.m. Friday, Nov. 19, at the Fox Theatre, 2211 Woodward Ave., Detroit. Tickets are $42.50-125. Call 313-471-6611 or visit www.olympiaentertainment.com

Web Site: www.olympiaentertainment.com

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