Published Jul 19, 2014People often forget that John Hiatt was among the young troubadours featured in Heartworn Highways, the essential documentary film about the Texas singer-songwriter scene in late 1975. More often remembered for his string of terrific songs in the late '80s (many of them hits when covered by artists like Bonnie Raitt and Jeff Healey), Hiatt is one of those hugely talented, widely respected, but easily overlooked artists. Which makes him a perfect candidate for a late career revitalization. If we're ready to rediscover Hiatt, to elevate him to the level of a Guy Clark, a Rodney Crowell, a Lyle Lovett or even a Townes Van Zandt, this might just be the record to spur us on.
Always a master of the surprising, face-slapping turn of phrase, Hiatt hasn't lost any of his bite in his seventh decade. His gruff-voiced snarl of a delivery meshes wonderfully with barstool wisdom like "Staring at my motorcycle/ My heart is so heavy/ Like a stack of Bibles." And who else but he could sing a line like "Sometimes love can seem so wrong/ Like a fat man in a thong" without the song right-turning into parody? But, above all, it is Hiatt's ability to limn a character, a mood, a theme, and an emotional landscape in the space of a few short lines: "I'm riding downtown dialled to John Lee Hooker / I've got my mind set on a slow meat cooker / My baby's gonna kick me out someday."
Terms of My Surrender is a mellow, late-night acoustic album, full of salt, gravel, whiskey and ache, but always there is this good humour, this personable rascal singing his blues for whoever's there to hear. A truly welcome return to form from a real master. (New West)