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John Hiatt and the Goners

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John Hiatt & The Goners featuring Sonny Landreth

Saturday, January 13, 2018

Don’t miss John Hiatt and the Goners featuring Sonny Landreth live at UA-PTC’s Center for Humanities and Art at 7 p.m. on Saturday, January 13. This will be the 30th anniversary tour of Hiatt's "Slow Turning" album. The first set will be the performance of "Slow Turning" in its entirety and the second set will be his hits.

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JOHN HIATT

TERMS OF MY SURRENDER  (NEW WEST RECORDS)

Forty years into his recording career, John Hiatt has chosen to title his 22nd studio album, Terms of My Surrender. Surrender? Is that as in Cheap Trick? Or Appomattox? Hiatt laughs, tentatively, at the choice.

John HiattIts my Appomattox, he says, wryly. Really I dont know where it came from, that idea of trying to arrange the terms of my surrender. I dont get to do that. Its a labor in vain in that respect, if you think you can negotiate that with anyone, or anything. In reference to the title song, its in terms of love. Youve got to give it up. The song says, I cant negotiate the terms.’”

Thats an essence, perhaps the essence, of the 11 songs here, the 11 stories they tell and, together perhaps, one story. Always a keen observer of lifes flings and foibles alike, usually mixed well together, Hiatts insights and skills at sharing them have only sharpened over the year. 

With his longtime guitarist Doug Lancio taking the producer reins, Hiatt set out to bring the songs character (and characters) into intimate focus. Theres a close-up, patina-festooned bluesy quality tying the tales together. But its blues in the knotty backwoods sense, as if sprung from the Delta loam. Its completely a band effort, his current group, which he calls simply the Combo, a tight-yet-loose unit from years together on the road Lancio on guitars, banjo and mandolin, Nathan Gehri on bass, Kenneth Blevins on drums, with keyboards from John Coleman on some of the tracks. But it all flows from the leader.

I had this group of songs and wanted to feature my guitar and voice oddly enough, he says. However peculiar it might be, I thought, Lets put it out front and see.’”

Lancio agreed. They settled into his cozy studio, a funky little place in East Nashville as Hiatt describes it, for a set of unfussy, highly of-the-moment sessions, many of them essentially done in one basic take. Hiatt had in mind playing some rough-edged electric guitar for the core sound, but the producer thought acoustic would be a better fit for the songs. I agreed, Hiatt says. And we ran it through the amp and it became the sound of the record my voice and my guitar and that was the thing. You know, my singing, Ive dropped down to a lower register. Ive for a long time sung from the middle to the top, and this is kind of down from there. It seemed to work, fit the songs, fit the feel. And its easier to sing them, oddly enough.

He pauses a second. Plus Im 61 and I dont have that top range any more. Another pause, before the zinger. I dont have the top of anything.

Hes not complaining, mind you. Doesnt bother me, he says of his age. Shit falls apart and I cant remember anything, all that stuff. But the plusses outweigh the minuses for sure.

That right there is a strong thread running through the album. The tales arent autobiographical, he stresses. But they are still, in many regards, his. Its more stories, storytelling, from different perspectives, he says. But he allows, I guess from a point of view. I guess its mine, if you want to put it that way, at a given time. It changes.

He cites the song Face of God, in which the narrator asks how long he must suffer before seeing said face. Its of course straight out of Christian theology, spiked with a line drawing on a Kenneth Patchen poem: They say God is the Devil until you look him in the eye.

At the end hes saying to his woman, Ive done enough, show me what youve got,’” Hiatt says. Thats not the way I feel about things. This guys genuinely in some kind of struggle to lift himself out of whatever hes struggling with. Hes got issues issues with people who have big cars and show their wealth, while hes coming in through the kitchen door. Thats definitely not me. I come in the kitchen door.

Ditto for the guy on the prowl in Babys Gonna Kick with the kicker line being that shes gonna kick me out and the killer couplet of listening to John Lee Hooker/Got my mind on a slow meat cooker.

Dont know where that came from, he says. Kinda sexual. Kind of a frisky song playful. I love the groove on that. That and a couple of other songs showcase Kenneth. What a great, fat bag he has, the way he leans back. Pretty bad-ass. Such a special feel. Been playing with him since 1987 and he just gets better and better.

Hiatt too. The run of albums starting with 2000s Crossing Muddy Waters through this new one is arguably the most consistently, fully realized expression of his considerable gifts as a writer and performer. Not to diminish his early accomplishments, of course. There are threads through his entire catalog tying the youthful energy of the early-80s statements Slug Line and Two Bit Monsters to the moving renewals of Bring the Family (with Ry Cooder, Nick Lowe and Jim Keltner collaborating) and Slow Turning later that decade to, well, all the work since.

Along the way his songs have attracted many other singers, through whom some have gained a wider world of fans via other artists versions Rosanne Cashs Pink Bedroom and most famously Bonnie Raitts hit version of Thing Called Love. And in recent years hes done series of shows with Lyle Lovett, our little Smothers Brothers comedy show, thats brought out other spins on his art, though elements already familiar to those whove been there all along. Alternately bemused and profound, hes a self-aware chronicler of both his own and others stumbles and epiphanies, the tales richer with each step forward.

And its all steps forward, even if on Terms of My Surrender there are some looks back in the process.

This record kind of hooked back up with the John the Troubadour Folk Singer Blues Guy, he says. I hadnt really been doing that for a while. That feels good. Feels like a kid. And anything you can do to feel like a kid when youre my age, you want to do it. Its a good thing.

 

The Center for Humanities and Arts (CHARTS)
University of Arkansas - Pulaski Technical College
3000 West Scenic Drive
North Little Rock, AR 72118
Phone: (501) 812-2715
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