Several weeks back I was surfing through the music channels on the TV when I came across someone you don’t see that often on these things — John Hiatt. Naturally, I stopped and pointed it out to The Wife.
“It’s John Hiatt! Wait. What is this song? I don’t recognize this.”
So I read the small type in the corner and learn it’s “Adios to California” from the album “Dirty Jeans and Mudslide Hymns.” Before I could register what was going on, the song was over.
“Wait. What was that song? I’ve never heard it before. Does Hiatt have a new album out? How do I not know this?”
As everyone familiar with the Report knows, John Hiatt is the Hawkeye of popular music. So for him to have an album out and me not have it in my collection is a crime against good taste and fine listening. I jumped on the laptop to investigate. Sure enough, Hiatt’s 20th studio album was released back in August.
Ah. August. No wonder. I was too busy trying not to die from kidney failure to pay much attention to what was new on the Americana music charts. Still, I am ashamed that I let this go for so long. I guess I should join a mailing list or something.
On the other hand, finding out about it in November did give me something to look forward to for the holiday.
So now, six months late but worth the wait, I can talk about “Dirty Jeans and Mudslide Hymns.” On the Hiatt Scale it does not rate up there in the rarefied air of “Bring the Family” or “Crossing Muddy Waters,” but few albums do. It is a solid second-tier Hiatt album, stronger than some of his recent releases. It’s got everything you really need from an album — a joyful, exuberant love song (I Love That Girl), a car song (Detroit Made), a train song (Train to Burmingham), a leaving song (Adios to California) and more. All delivered with top musicianship, clever lyrics and Hiatt’s unique voice.
If there’s one thing Hiatt knows how to do, it’s launch an album. Pretty much every record begins with a great song and he nails it again on the 20th try. “Damn This Town” is a witty ditty sung by a guy who’s fed up with his situation and finally ready to move out. I’ve often wished someone would write a song with the line “Damn this town I’m leavin'” that I could sing in my car over and over, and now I finally have it.
Other highlights: All the songs I mentioned earlier, as well as the dark and gritty “Down Around My Place.”
While Hiatt albums usually start strong, they don’t always nail the landing. Last songs are often mellow, sometimes inconsequential numbers. “When New York Had Her Heart Broke” is a 9/11 tribute that closes out the show. It’s a nice, mostly instrumental and somewhat etherial track. Not a favorite but a fair way to wrap things up.
If you purchase this the old-fashioned way via CD, there is a DVD that goes along with it that offers a 23-minute video where Hiatt briefly talks about each song. You can also listen to the entire album on the DVD, which I guess makes sense if you have better TV speakers than you do stereo speakers.