John Hiatt – Dirty Jeans And Mudslide Hymns (New West)

This is Hiatt’s 20th album. The veteran American singer-songwriter has been around so long that one of his songs was a hit for Three Dog Night back in 1974. Hiatt has made a career out of his sharp songwriting, weathered voice and his generally world-weary attitude.

This new release doesn’t really show Hiatt striking out in any new musical territory. But that’s OK. Backed by his trusty touring band (drummer Kenneth Blevins, guitarist Doug Lancio, bass player Patrick O’Hearn), Hiatt continues his tradition of telling stories about personal and social injustice along with the usual tales of romance and fast cars.

The album begins with Damn This Town; a snarling track that sounds a bit like Crazy Horse was hired to sit in. Hiatt is angry…”they killed my brother in a poker game” he spits out at first, while later, “another brother just got out of the Florida Pen”. The song may be about a dysfunctional family struggling in a small town or it might reflect what’s going on in America overall. Either way it works.

Til I Get My Lovin’ Back is a country ballad replete with steel guitar (Hiatt does live in Nashville after all). It’s a cry-in-your beer weeper that has Hiatt singing, “I hide in the darkness, it’s all I can do, til I get my lovin’ back from you”.

Things aren’t all downbeat.  I Love That Girl is a bouncy, upbeat rocker that’s so easy-going it sounds like it wrote itself. That, of course, is the key to a good song. It shouldn’t feel laboured.

Less successful are a couple of Hiatt’s big, epochal “message” songs. Both Hold On For Your Love and Down Around My Place clock in at six minutes. Musically, both sound a bit like Hiatt’s old song, Perfectly Good Guitar while lyrically they find the singer venting his anger and righteous indignation at some hazy “them”.  The album closes with a totally unnecessary song about 911 called When New York Had Her Heart Broken. I realize the 10th anniversary of the 911 attacks is upon us, but do we need a new batch of songs to go with it?

Better is Detroit Made, a simple three-chord rock about an old Buick and All The Way Under, a funky track featuring accordion and some tasty guitar pickin’.

While listening to Don’t Wanna Leave You Now, a reflective tune that has Hiatt singing, “I done a lot things baby that don’t make me proud”, it occurred to me that John Hiatt is on a similar musical road to Australian great Paul Kelly. Both are songwriters capable of evoking a smile or a tear from the listener, often in the same song. Both have been around for decades and both can be counted on to come up with a solid collection of songs every couple of years or so. That’s what John Hiatt has done here.

Marty Duda

Click here to listen to All The Way Under from Dirty Jeans And Mudslide Hymns: