John Hiatt was born and raised in Indiana. In the early 1970s he headed for
Nashville and recorded his debut album,
Hangin' Around The Observatory (Epic, 1974), in the eclectic rootsy
style of Leon Russell, a tasteful mixture of
country, soul, gospel, rock and blues (Sure As I'm Sitting Here).
After another, inferior, album of traditional sounds,
Overcoats (Epic, 1975), Hiatt moved to Los Angeles.
Adding reggae and rhythm'n'blues to the stew, Hiatt delivered the rawer and
meaner Slug Line (MCA, 1979), that established him as an original
and creative singer-songwriter. Confidently flirting with
reggae (Madonna Road), pop (Radio Girl),
rockabilly (You Used To Kiss The Girls) and
rhythm'n'blues (Washable Ink), Hiatt had become a master who could paint
just about any landscape.
Compared with that solid collection,
Two Bit Monsters (MCA, 1980) was a let-down. For each tender confession
(It Hasn't Happened Yet, Pink Bedroom),
one had to swallow a dose of frantic rhythm'n'blues
(String Pull Job).
Hiatt's sell-out continued with the heavily arranged
All Of A Sudden (Geffen, 1982), on which
Hiatt's poetry gets lost in the bombast (I Look For Love,
Something Happened), despite the heartbreaking gospel My Edge Of The Razor.
Riding With the King (Geffen, 1983) continued the slide, despite the
the martial boogie Riding With the King,
the visceral soul ballad
Love Like Blood, and another folk-rock gem:
She Loves The Jerk.
Warming Up To The Ice Age (Geffen, 1985) even drowned Hiatt's thoughtful
lyrics into the loud power-pop of
The Usual, Zero House and I Got A Gun.
Hiatt's emotions managed to escape the trap only in
the bleak When We Ran and the roaring rhythm'n'blues of The Crush.
The simpler, calmer tone of Bring the Family (A&M, 1987) was more
rewarding, with touching melodramas such as Have A Little Faith In Me
and My Dad Did, and haunting watercolors such as Lipstick Sunset.
And Thing Called Love remains one of his masterpieces.
The line-up was a de-facto supergroup, with Hiatt on acoustic guitar and piano,
Nick Lowe on bass, Ry Cooder on electric guitar and sitar, Jim Keltner on drums.
Hiatt was finally recovering from alcoholism (and the devastating loss of
his wife, who committed suicide).
It was followed by Slow Turning (A&M, 1988), that tends
to gets lost in philosophical speculation (Is Anybody There) and
only occasionally lets the spark catch fire
(Drive South, Tennessee Plates,
Feels Like Rain, Slow Turning).
Y'All Caught (Geffen, 1989) is an anthology.
Bob Dylan's influence was beneficial if that's what made
Stolen Moments (A&M, 1990) the impeccable album that it is.
From the melodic rockabilly of Real Fine Love and
Child Of The Wild Blue Yonder to the folkish intensity of
Thirty Years of Tears and Through Your Hands, Hiatt pours his
heart on the notes and carries the listener into his intimate world.
Touches of soul (Bring Back Your Love To Me) and
hard-rock The Rest Of The Dream, which echoes
AC/DC's You Shook Me All Night Long) do not detract from the whole.
Little Village (Reprise, 1992) was an all-star band concocted with
Ry Cooder, Nick Lowe and Jim Keltner, the same co-conspirators of
Bring the Family.
Falling prey to Neil Young's neurotic guitar style, Hiatt reinvented himself on
Perfectly Good Guitar (A&M, 1993), a collection of raucous rave-ups
(Something Wild, Buffalo River Home, and best of all
The contrast between that album and Walk On (Capitol, 1995) is
striking. The latter seems like new age music
(The River Knows Your Name). It is also one of his most profound
and illuminating works (You Must Go, Walk On,
I Can't Wait, Good As She Could Be).
The album also opens new stylistic avenues, at the border between jazz, pop and
blues, with Wrote It Down And Burned It and Mile High.
Hiatt's third masterpiece.
Hiatt returned to arranged music with Little Head (Capitol, 1997), which
contains weak power-pop tracks such as
and Sure Pinocchio (reminiscent of Warren Zevon's
Werewolves Of London).
The acoustic Crossing Muddy Waters (Vanguard, 2000) and
The Tiki Bar Is Open (Vanguard, 2001), with the angry rant of
Everybody Went Low, are disappointing.
Beneath This Gruff Exterior (2004) hardly sounds like a Hiatt album:
the dominant sound is Sonny Landreth's guitar, Hiatt's voice is feeble,
and the material is worthy of a bar-band.
A chronic lack of inspiration also affects
Master Of Disaster (New West, 2005).
The nostalgic mood of Master Of Disaster (2005) and
Open Road 2010)
did not help redeem
the lack of musical attractions. In fact, it made it worse.
And when Hiatt tried to go for a slicker sound on
Dirty Jeans and Mudslide Hymns (2011), it felt like an old woman
trying to look like a teenager... and looking even older.
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