Monday, April 1, 2013

Love's Many Splendours: John Hiatt

John Hiatt

Love, in many of its infinite guises, is explored on Bring the Family like on few other contemporary albums. John Hiatt’s last chance masterpiece from 1987 is in many ways the best and most complete exposition of that four lettered word ever put to tape.  I know that’s saying a lot but I’ve not yet come across another record where each song is a precise and concise sermon on LOVE.

Starting out with Memphis in the Meantime, (which needs to be played LOUD to appreciate the song’s full joyful impact) Hiatt treats us to the love that can only be found dancing with your sweetheart in a sweaty honky tonk, then shows us love betrayed by cowardice (Lipstick Sunset), lost love (Alone in the Dark) and the kind of love your lover provides when you’re feeling weak (Have a Little Faith in Me). And which one of us haven’t felt eternal gratitude for our unbelievable luck in finding the love of our soul mate/saviour (Thank You Girl).

And so it goes.  It is hard to believe that Hiatt, who in 1987 was a washed up, broken down, dropped-by-his-record-label ex-drunken underperforming musician, when he and some mates (Ry Cooder, Nick Lowe, Jim Keltner) scrounged enough cash together for a half a week’s studio time to put together a final attempt to get the industry’s attention. This does not sound anything like a man out of ideas. Each song is an eloquent extolling of this Thing Called Love every bit as pithy and quite a bit more succinct than Shakespeare’s celebrated sonnets.  

Tip of My Tongue in which he Hiatt regretfully rues the wounded love he’s created ‘with three angry words’ is absolute perfection. Every word is essential as is every world weary note played by Ry Cooder. There are so many great songs on this record. Take Stood Up, which is review of how he sobered up, and ‘stood up.’ 
I don't know about you
But there's a lot of things
I never stood up to
Even as I turned and walked away
I guess that's why I'm standing on my own
two feet today

Unlike almost every other love rock ‘n roll love song in history, Stood Up is a giant unabashed song of love to himself. The album wraps up with the fantastic Learning How to Love You. What man has not wanted to sing this song to his wife, girlfriend or lover? 

From the first kiss in the schoolyard
Til the last heart broke in two
I didn't know it would be so hard
Learning how to love you
There was a life that I was living
In some cracked rearview
Where no future was given
To a heart untrue 

Still I thought that I was so strong
That my will could force me through
I didn't know it would be so long
Learning how to love you 

Bring the Family is quite simply one of the best American records of the last 30 years.   It is fun, full of music of the highest calibre and a genuinely honest, warts and all, mature, vulnerable, irascible telling of love’s eternal story.

Track Listing:
01 Memphis in the Meantime
02 Alone in the Dark
03 Thing Called Love
04 Lipstick Sunset
05 Have a Little Faith in Me
06 Thank You Girl
07 Tip of My Tongue 
08 Your Dad Did
09 Stood Up
10 Learning How to Love You


Anonymous said...

In general I think John Hiatt is pretty over-rated on record (live, especially acoustic, he can be awesome).

But this CD is *killer* start to finish. It's better than any "best of" off of ten of his other albums you could put together. I own thousands of CDs and come back to this one over and over again. It's that good.

Nathan Rabe said...

I've never seen or heard him live, so will accept your judgment. But like you this is one of those records that just doens't grow old.

Anonymous said...

Desert Island disk. Loose, live, rockin', heartbreakin', thoughtful and alive.

This is the absolute pinnacle of Hiatt's career (by a larger margin) and one of the best albums of the past 30 years.

It's really that good.

Nathan Rabe said...

Could not agree more!