No Better Than This is the second down-to-the-basics, Mellencamp and an instrument or two, mono recording produced by T-Bone Burnett. This time they take an old tape recorder and one microphone to the Sun Studios in Memphis, a Baptist church in Savannah and a hotel room in San Antonio where legendary bluesman Robert Johnson recorded. The mood is slightly more chipper than on the last one Life, Death, Love and Freedom and starts out with a real good, moving song Save Some Time to Dream, but Mellencamp is still no Bob Dylan. There is more pretense than substance on this one.
Hank Williams III - Rebel Within (Sidewalk Records)
Hank the Third made some good honky tonk/punk records about 10 years ago, like Lovesick, Broke and Driftin. He was able to connect with the spirit of his granddad without being tainted by the hocum of his dad Hank Jr. Rebel Within is more of the same Hellbilly sound, but without as much emotion. These are all songs about getting falling down drunk. Well, except the one about heroin, #5 which has the line Four of my friends have gone on and died, it looks like I am going to be #5.
She and Him - Volume Two (Merge Records)
She and Him is musician M. Ward and actress Zooey Deschanel. As a singer Deschanel is best known for the duet Its Cold Outside with Will Farrell in the movie Elf. Her singing has an appealing something extra, cry-in-her-voice quality about it. Volume Two doesnt have a song as good as Change is Hard from Volume One, but on the whole it is a stronger collection. Volume Two goes for a fuller retro-pop, girl group 60s sound. Zooey is also a good songwriter. She wrote all the songs except the two covers, NRBQs Drivin In My Car and the classic heartbreaker Gonna Get Along Without You Now.
Jeff Beck - Emotion and Commotion (Duece Music)
Guitarist Jeff Beck has had an extraordinary career, including his time with the Yardbirds, Truth with Rod Stewart, and his fusion records Blow by Blow and Wired. He has never gone for the same old thing and has repeatedly shown a capacity to surprise. Still, Emotion and Commotion is surprisingly dull. Several of the tunes here feature his impeccable electric guitar tone with a symphony in the background. It mostly sounds like soundtrack music. And do we really need another version of Somewhere Over the Rainbow?