Same Old Man
The album opens with a growling bass guitar knocking around the echoing studio like an old man dragging around in his morning kitchen in search of coffee filters. A drum rattles and bangs like a spoon in a tin cup and a raggedy guitar tags along. The man begins to sing; you can practically see his plaid flannel robe and hear the man rubbing his unshaved chin. He’s relaying a meandering drolly funny story about his youthful days on the road. The moral seems to be something about the blues not being enough to save your sorry ass, that when you start out in this music business (and sometimes when you end it) you might as well be playing for free based on the door take, and the good old days weren’t that great at the time. Yeah, but they sure do add up to a great story and a terrific opening track, “Old Days.”
John Hiatt has been making music for 34 years. He’s earned his star on the Music City Walk of Fame the hard way - lean years, road tours to Podunk towns and, finally, with the support of other artists who recognized a crafty songwriter with a penchant for capturing the essence of relationships in sweet songs that sound frayed around the edges. Hiatt’s new album is titled Same Old Man and that sentiment sums up the eleven songs on the disc. He’s not out to break new ground or experiment with the latest production techniques. This is quintessential John Hiatt and you’ll be hard pressed to find a sweeter, smarter, more mature record than this one this year.
On “What Love Can Do” Hiatt proves he can still capture the romantic everyman with lyrics like “We were always happiest when we had the least/who would have known this love would turn into such a feast?” Making that song sweeter still is the backing vocals of his daughter, Lily Hiatt. Also joining Hiatt is Luther Dickinson of The North Mississippi All-Stars. His contribution - acoustic and electric guitar, mandolin and national resonator – helps to lay the cornerstone roots and blues mood of the record. Mid tempo rockers and lazy afternoon ballads, all produced, recorded and mixed by Hiatt, are the soul of the release. Patrick O’Hearn handles bass duties while Kenneth Blevins keeps the tempo on drums.
John Hiatt is one of those rare songwriters who knows how to write a wickedly good “simple” song. Of course, there’s nothing simple about that ability. Listening to one of his songs feels like sitting with someone who, while shooting the breeze, says some amazingly true things. I guarantee there’s hours of labor behind that conversational wisdom. The Same Old Man is full of moments like that. Listening to it will make you proud to be in such good company.