Review: John Hiatt – ’Terms of my Surrender’

John-Hiatt_

‘Wow. Did I order a smoky barbecued steak and a shot of bourbon? Surprising. Especially because I am a vegetarian.’

That was my first thought upon hearing John Hiatt’s voice rumbling through the opening lines of ‘Long Time Comin’, the opener of his 22nd studio album Terms of my Surrender.

Despite a career spanning 30 years, Hiatt is a new sound for me. In fact, it’s not often I write in the first person. You, the reader, tends to simply not like it. But my astonishment at what I have been missing must be captured. This album, and the few preceding it I’ve not acquainted myself with (Same Old Man and The Open Road to note) are great.

Seems I wasted a lot of energy awaiting the new Neil Young record after all.

The opening ‘Long Time Comin” is not the only notable entry. ‘Nobody Knew His Name’ progresses into a blues mantra following sublime entry from very Burt Bacharach-esque ‘This Guy’s In Love With You’ intro chords. ‘Baby’s Gonna’ Kick’ is an amusing song about troubles rearing their heads and in the same vein of humour is ‘Old People’, perhaps the most hilarious song assessing the elderly self-righteous selfishness of old people:

“Old people are pushy / Cos’ life ain’t cushy” Hiatt groans out, criticising their demeanour in shops, their slow driving, their tendency to kiss babies and their jealousy of youth. It’s a light-hearted yet maverick amplification of the attitudes of old people. Here’s hoping it spurs some old age rebellion. “They seem like sweet little old people / But they’re not ready to kiss your ass.”

The strongest song comes in ‘Wind Don’t Have To Hurry’, an atmospheric, moody, gruff song which would not be out of place in the soundtrack of True Detective. What adds to the atmosphere is the guitar work in particular, that of Doug Lancio – guitarist with country star Gretchen Peters. Unbeknownst to me at the time, I had listen to Lancio‘s licks many times over, particularly on Peter’s excellent Hello Cruel World, which was the BBC Radio 2 soundtrack to my sunset post-work drives in southern England. They were good times with good music. This good music brings back those good times.

Yet the album misses perfection. ‘Face of God’ is a forgettable religious-tinged ditty and ‘Marlene’ reminds me most of Fats Domino’s ‘Blueberry Hill’, albeit a little faster. And that’s not a good thing.

Yet this album deserves praise for the funniest line of 2014 contained in the title track of Terms of My Surrender: “sometimes love seems so wrong / Like a fat man in a thong.”

There’s depth in the musicianship and poetry in Terms of my Surrender. There’s passion, albeit the restrained blues kind. There’s soul.

It is a meaty album. And while my palette is not accustomed to Hiatt’s repertoire, I am certainly tempted to indulge myself. In the meantime, I’ll take the bourbon at least.

4 out of 5 stars

Words: Ashley Scrace

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