New West Records [Release date 12.10.18]
Doing anything consistently well for nigh on 45 years is a near impossibility, especially when it comes to artistic endeavor. Many artists simple aren’t around for 45 years in the first place and those that are – even the greats like McCartney, Jagger, Richards – all experienced peaks and troughs in the quality of their output throughout their careers. There is only a finite number of ways that random notes can be put in a sonically-pleasing order within a genre before, at some point, the juice simply runs out.
With The Eclipse Sessions, his 26th album since 1974, John Hiatt proves that he is to consistency in songwriting as oak wood panels and dust-covered tomes are to the world’s finest libraries.
Hiatt is the unparalleled master of three and four chord song simplicity, weaving embryos of melodies into one of his many signature song styles. And that’s the thing, there is a side of our human nature which wants to see the envelope pushed but we also yearn for the comfortable, the known knowns, something honest and genuine which we can trust and rely upon. Sometimes, we just want to know what we’re getting.
From the up-tempo, down-home country roots rock of “Poor Imitation of God” and the excellent and so typical “All The Way To The River”, through the wistful laments “Aces Up Your Sleeve” and “Nothing In My Heart”, Hiatt’s first release in four years ticks all the boxes.
Despite claiming to be searching for direction in the lead up to making this record (“cheap and dirty in a bad motel, wondering what it was you used to do so well”), Hiatt need not have worried. Like a Tennessee midwife, Hiatt goes to work and just delivers – time and again.
His sardonic sense of humor (“seven nights of heaven, eleven days of who shot who”) and knack for a bluesy, slide work-out are beautifully evidenced on “I Like The Odds Of Loving You”. The inevitable subjects of ageing and loss (in Hiatt’s case, 66 seems to be the new 36) surfaces on the album closer with another of Hiatt’s classic hymns “Robbers Highway” – these themes and Hiatt’s delivery are truly as comforting as a Grandmother’s embrace.
Hiatt has one of those beautifully lived-in voices, like an old country home which has witnessed love, loss, joy and sadness within its four walls over many generations. The clarity of his intonation gives life itself to his lyrical meanderings and his vocal resonance and range is warm and effortless
Naturally, opinion will differ on what makes a great singer/songwriter but certainly there are some common characteristics which exist in the very best – a forty-plus year recording and touring career, a long roster of artists covering your songs (Bob Dylan, Bonnie Raitt, Emmylou Harris, Iggy Pop, Rosanne Cash, Eric Clapton & B.B. King) and ultimately, becoming synonymous with a genre, if not becoming the genre itself.
Just as successful brands become part of the daily vernacular – google it, pass me a Kleenex – I hereby unilaterally declare John Hiatt to be his own genre of music……”play me something, anything by John Hiatt”.
Hiatt is a world song-writing treasure, as reliable as grits on a southern breakfast table. There should be statues and scholarships in his honour but until then, I’ll settle for a new album of trusty Hiatt whenever I can get it. ****
Review by Mark “Mad Dog” Shaw
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