The remarkable metamorphosis of Johnny Cougar, whose derivative meanderings were the sound of a brash youngster thrashing away in his own raw talent, into John Mellencamp, American heartland roots rocker highly respected for his artistic integrity, remains one of the most extraordinary transformations in popular music history. The string of forgettable material issued under the Cougar moniker was finally broken with "Hurts So Good" and "Jack & Diane" in the early '80s, signaling the emergence of Mellencamp as a perceptive chronicler of human struggles and real life in all those small towns he helped put back on the map. At the same time he established his band as one of the tightest, hardest working ensembles in the biz, and became an outspoken advocate for family farmers. Mellencamp's latest, No Better Than This, is a welcome surprise: 13 new songs recorded with a single microphone in warm mono sound by producer T Bone Burnett in a variety of historic locations—Memphis's Sun Studio, the San Antonio hotel room where Robert Johnson once recorded. Most of the songs are reflective, but more significantly they all seem to inhabit that heady era when country, blues, folk, rockabilly, and rock 'n' roll were still kissin' cousins and invigorating one another. A short film will open the show: It's About You, which documents the recording of No Better and Mellencamp's simultaneous ballpark tour with Willie Nelson and Bob Dylan. Paintings by Mellencamp will also be displayed in the theater's lobby.
Mondays, Tuesdays, 6:30 p.m. Starts: Nov. 22. Continues through Nov. 23, 2010