Many question whatever happened to rock and roll? If one happens to listen to terrestrial radio these days, it's a question that begs an answer, because apparently it's been taken over by both the inane and the worthless. It's no great mystery that some of the best music is served up in biker-friendly roadhouses. Yet if one looks past the black leather, bikers are populated by a diverse segment of citizens, each as different as fall leaves. At any given biker bar on any given weekend, you're just as likely to find a guy wearing an anti-Obama T-shirt immersed in friendly chat with a guy wearing a "Limbaugh Sucks" cap. Our bikes too are as different as our politics and most of us wouldn't have it any other way because riding is what ultimately unites us. On the road, politics, race, and religion, can be left behind-like leaves scattering in the wind. Maybe if world leaders got together and did a trip to Sturgis, universal peace might actually be attainable (?). Another uniting force is music. To be sure, everyone has his likes and dislikes. But there's always plenty of new music which deserves a listen-though you would never know it by listening to the radio...
Wheels represent ratings from 1 to 5 (best).
No Better Than This
Produced by T Bone Burnett, the new John Mellencamp album is a trip back to the times when rock 'n' roll was new. No Better Than This was recorded on vintage equipment at three historic studios: the basement of the First African Baptist Church in Savannah, Georgia, Sun Studios in Memphis, and room 414 of the Granger Hotel in San Antonio where bluesman Robert Johnson first recorded. The only thing missing is a session at Royal Studios in Memphis, where the late, great Willie Mitchell recorded all those great Al Green tracks. With a new label, Mellencamp is freed from the pressure to record hit singles. Lyrically, it's his best album ever. Sonically, it represents challenges that may not be overcome by the sound of your exhaust pipes if you're inclined to listen while riding-which is what we suggest-especially if you can find some of those proverbial lonesome roads. We suspect the actual vinyl record may sound even better. The songs showcase Mellencamp's many influences, with a heavy focus on bluesy country-rockabilly. But even when accompanied by just a guitar, the songs provide some much-needed respite from the pop claptrap on radio these days. Plus, it's an album that returns much the more you listen to it. These days that's a bargain.
Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers
From the opening notes of "Jefferson Jericho Blues," Tom Petty and band make it abundantly clear they've hitched a ride on the blues train. Reunited with the Heartbreakers after eight years, Mojo is easily their best album since 1994's Wildflowers.
The band sounds as if it's been ensconced in Chicago blues clubs for years, hitting all the right notes. Mike Campbell's slide guitar and Scott Thurston's harmonica are enough to make Muddy Waters smile in his grave. The blues, it seems, are never far away, though there's a touch of reggae and garage rock to keep things interesting. Lyrically there are a few surprises. Tom is best when he really has something to say, and while this may not be his best collection of swaggering rock 'n' roll songs, some of the best songs like "The Trip to Pirate's Cove" and "Running Man's Bible" require the listener's attention to make them work. As a motorcycle ridin' soundtrack, there's plenty of references to the road to keep things interesting. "U.S. 41," "Let Yourself Go," and "Don't Pull Me Over" are all worthy cruising tracks. It's an album that provides plenty of good mojo for the road.