John Hiatt

Record Reviews

Phases and Stages

John Hiatt

The Tiki Bar is Open (Vanguard)

John Hiatt has come full circle, and not a moment too soon. By the time the veteran singer/songwriter's scattershot Nineties albums sank to the locker room humor of his abysmal 1997 LP Little Head, Hiatt sounded like a shell of the man who had penned such heartfelt gems as "Have a Little Faith in Me" and "Feels Like Rain." After rebounding with last year's warm, acoustic outing Crossing Muddy Waters, Hiatt's reconvened his acclaimed late-Eighties backing band the Goners, the outfit that grabbed the baton from former Hiatt bandmates Ry Cooder, Nick Lowe, and Jim Keltner, and helped craft Hiatt's 1988 masterpiece Slow Turning. Hiatt's new collaboration with the Goners marks a return to the duality that informs his best songwriting, in chronicles of family trust and trials, love and loneliness, addiction and recovery. The sweet childhood memories of "All the Lilacs in Ohio" are juxtaposed with an image of dirty snow on city streets, while the beautiful lullaby melody of "Come Home to You" cloaks generations of patriarchal regret. Musically, the earthy sound of the Band echoes through the stutter-step drums and breezy harmonica of "Hangin' Round Here," and Rick Danko's spirit feels close on Hiatt's trembling vocal through "Something Broken." The disc has its share of barnburners, too. Ace slide guitarist Sonny Landreth torques up "Everybody Went Low" and nails the haunting swamp blues of "I Know a Place." The family reunion vibe peaks with the touching "My Old Friend," helping make the rejuvenated Hiatt's Tiki Bar worthy of repeat visits. (John Hiatt plays the B.B. King Blues Fest at Auditorium Shores, Sunday, Oct. 7.)

****

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