Some of my friends bristle at John Hiatt's gravely voice, but, whenever I hear a singer that raw and distinct, I think to myself, "That man must know something." No, you don't necessarily gain anything intellectually by listening to John Hiatt albums, but the complexity of human emotions—love, vulnerability, heartache—are revealed to you in the light of his music and showmanship. Occasionally, you want to set aside the fresh-faced boy bands and listen to someone who's lived a little, who's been through shit. John Hiatt has (premature family deaths, alcoholism, his first wife's suicide).
Before I tell you about his new album, which was just released Tuesday, I will relate two John Hiatt anecdotes. (Briefly, for the uninitiated: though John Hiatt is a Grammy-winning singer/songwriter [for the superb Crossing Muddy Waters], he is perhaps best known for penning Bonnie Raitt's smash hit, "Thing Called Love.")
I first saw John Hiatt in concert in 1993 at the Warfield in San Francisco. I sat in the balcony alone, where his technically brilliant performance washed over me like some religious experience and some of his lyrics, in that live venue, felt new again, moving me to tears (it must have been "Icy Blue Heart"—I don't remember). He sauntered onto stage with an electric guitar a half hour late and without an opening act, effortlessly strummed a tune, and then invited his band to join him for an incredible two-hour set. If I were a mere John Hiatt fan before, I was now a true believer.
Anecdote #2: Robert used to clean houses decades ago. He was once sent to a place in Los Angeles that John Hiatt happened to have been staying temporarily. And the only reason that Robert knew that John Hiatt was staying there was because John Hiatt had left hand-written sheets of paper with lyrics on them strewn about the living room. I make Robert tell me this story often, to which I scream, "OH MY GOD!"
Same Old Man is absent any out-of-the-ballpark, radio-friendly singles, but the album is so consistently excellent as a whole that its culminative effect is a bit disconcerting at first. How could one man know so much and make it sound so damn good? Boys and girls, the title track is available for free as an MP3 download right here, and, you can take a listen below. And, man, those last four lines!:
"But, Prince, what's your favorite John Hiatt song of all time?" Well, I'm glad you asked. It's "Before I Go" from Crossing Muddy Waters: