2019 CD FEATURE
THE ECLIPSE SESSIONS (NEW WEST).
HIATT TOP OF THE MOUNTAIN BUT NOT OVER THE HILL
“I'm over the hill, under the bridge/ still a few peaks and down the hills/ I ain't seen you talk about love, I talk about love/ I don't know any better than to dream/ I know your father's house, it has many rooms/ I see the young men sweeping up with their brooms/ but if you want me I'm over the hill.” - Over The Hill - John Hiatt.
There's no danger of Mid-west refugee John Hiatt hitting the highest notes at the age of 66 on his 23rd solo album The Eclipse Sessions.
But Hiatt, who won acclaim on his Australian tours, delivers droll humour in love metaphors in new single Over The Hill that is accompanied by a video that we feature on Nu Country TV.
“For Over the Hill I had the chords and that first line just popped out,” Hiatt revealed.
“I'm over the hill, under the bridge, got a few peaks and valleys, I ain't seen.” I thought ‘man that is something to write a song about right there.” Ry Cooder used to tell me, ‘you know when you get a line or a melody or a couple of chords, then you just jump in the little space ship and take the trip.' That's kind of how I see songwriting. If I can get a little initial inspiration then, okay, let's write this song. Most of the time I don't even know where it is going until I get there. You know it when I know it.”
The Eclipse Sessions is Hiatt's first new album since 2014's Terms of My Surrender.
“We toured Terms of my Surrender for most of 2014 and 2015,” Hiatt recalled.
"I came home and told my wife I need to slow down. I was doing 100-120 shows a year, something like 200-plus days on the road. We've been married 32 years and we've been apart a good deal of that time."
Right after Terms of My Surrender hit the streets they sold their family farm and moved into Nashville.
"There were a lot of big changes,” Hiatt explained.
“That farm, that's where we raised the kids; it was our family place for 25 years. It was an adjustment. And now, on top of that, I decided to slow down touring. For 2016 and 2017 I was doing something like 60 shows, and so that was an adjustment for my wife. She wanted me to be home more, but then it's like are we sure about that?"
After being married more than three decades they re-learned how to live with one another.
"It felt like we were dating for the first time. That was fun. But, the other part of this whole thing was asking the question, 'who the hell are we?' It took some adjusting. I was out with a band most of that time. I came home at the end of 2015 and realised it was time to cut back a little on my touring schedule, so I cut the schedule in half for 2016 and spent time with my wife and the family. I turned 64 at the end of the summer of 2016 and was adjusting to a new place in my life. A place I had never been before. I had been on the road every year since 2000 and was putting out an album approximately every 18 months. I was a bit depleted creatively, not that it is a bad thing, just realised it was time to figure out where I was mentally, physically, and spiritually. Toward the end of 2016 the songs started to show up again, and then we recorded The Eclipse Sessions in August of 2017. Guy Clark used to say when asked how do you know when it is time to make a record - ‘when I got ten good songs' and that's pretty much how I felt. I had some songs together and it was time to start recording.”
Despite being burned out Hiatt never considered hanging up his guitar.
"Never. I never thought about that," Hiatt confessed.
"I've been writing since I was 11 so I know this is part of who I am. It wasn't a question of if, and not even when, but how. How is this record how are these new songs going to materialise? I'm still kind of restless, but I feel good. I'm 66, and I feel healthy and feel like I'm in good place."
POOR IMITATION OF GOD
“Well I can steal your heart from you/ hide it in my walkin' shoes/ bleed before the band gets hard/ I'm a poor imitation of God.” - Poor Imitation Of God - John Hiatt.
“Kevin is a great Nashville keyboard player. In the studio with Kevin and I was Kenny Blevins, who has played drums with me on and off for years, and Patrick Ohur, a great bass player who made a couple of records with us. We just started recording these songs as a trio, a little broke down drum kit, myself on acoustic guitar and singing, and Patrick on the upright bass with some electric. We would get a live take off the floor- vocals, guitar, drums, and then Kevin would put a little keyboard on. Kevin's son, Yates, who was only fifteen at the time, would come down at night after we had left and add a guitar part. It happened very accidentally and the next thing you know we had a record.”
His previous album Terms Of My Surrender followed Bring the Family and 2000's Crossing Muddy Waters.
“One of the big connections between the three is that they all kind of happened by accident,” Hiatt explained.
“I didn't really go in to the studio intending to make another record. I was mainly just trying to record some new songs I had. I really didn't know what kind of record I was going to make. That was the same thing that happened with Bring the Family . My friend John Chelew organised the musicians and we had four days in the studio but I really didn't know what was going to happen. With Crossing Muddy Waters a trio of guys and I went over to Justin Mebank's home studio at the last minute. I've got these songs and thought ‘hey, let's try it without drums' and see what happens. The next thing you know that was how we recorded them. The sound just happened. That same thing happened with this record.”
The Eclipse Sessions enabled Hiatt to expand his satiric streak in Poor Imitation Of God.
“ Poor Imitation of God was in the later sessions, if I'm not mistaken,” Hiatt recalled.
“I believe we cut that during the four days we had in October of 2017. That's a song I wrote about my Catholic upbringing. It was pounded into us youth that you are made in the image of God and you gotta do your best. Although you'll never be perfect, you gotta do your best to hold up your end of the bargain. I always felt like I fell short. It's a bit tongue in cheek, but it's about a guy who is trying to love this woman the best he can but his biggest problem is that he is also trying to learn how to care about himself. How can you love somebody if you don't love yourself? I think that's a dilemma for a lot of people.”
"Faith plays a role all the time, you know? A large part of being alive is believing in stuff you can't see. It's important. That song, I copped that idea - it was drilled into us as kids. You're an imitation of Christ - I think that's what they told us. I always felt inadequate to live up to that. It was tough. It was rough, man."
ALL THE WAY TO THE RIVER
“Up late with the hollowed out eyes/ all the way to the river/ trying every last trouble on for size/ all the way to the river/ who knows what she's gonna do/ all the way to the river/ not up to me, not up to you/ all the way to the river/ fumbling for the keys to her car/ all the way to the river/ empty bottles only go so far/ all the way to the river/ straight down Broadway 3 AM/ all the way to the river/ she's gone way past calling a friend.” - All The Way To The River - John Hiatt.
Those sessions were very creative.
"I'm kind of partial to All the Way to the River right now," Hiatt confessed of the song exploiting metaphors of a female's dashed dreams akin to Nashville success struggles.
"It's a relentless kind of song. You don't know if this woman just gives up and moves on, or what it really looks like and it reminds me of Nashville . This is a place where a lot of people bring dreams, and they don't always materialize. New York City is the same way, you know? I like the feeling of that song.”
He also expanded on another new song.
"I also like Aces Up Your Sleeve ," Hiatt admitted of a song that explores cards analogies for his character's angst about being eclipsed by a former partner's riches.
"I kind of deal with my 'cranky old guy watching his city change before his eyes,' and I kind of use that as a metaphor for love lost."
Equally graphic are the twin trains 10 miles apart fuelling faded love in Nothing In My Heart .
Bleak imagery, punctuated with glimmers of hope, propels heartbreak in Outrunning My Soul while regret fuels Hide Your Tears.
But Hiatt gambles on romance in The Odds Of Loving You and optimism in One Stiff Breeze .
“I lost my brothers, I lost my friends/ only one way, the same ends/ cheap and dirty in a bad motel/ wondering what it was you used to do so well/ I had words, chords and strings/ now I don't have any of these things/ come and get me, Jesus, I don't know/ come and get me 'cause I can't go/ shirt and pants, coffee black/ open up the shade of crack/ fields of cotton, fields of clay/ sun going down on a robber's highway.” - Robber's Highway - John Hiatt.
Hiatt proves imagery is his strong suit in bleak Biblical finale Robber's Highway .
It's a flashback to a career begun when Nashville rockers Mother Earth included his Thinking of You on their 1972 album Mother Earth /Tracy Nelson and Three Dog Night turned his Sure as I'm Sittin' Here into a 1974 hit.
Hiatt's songs have been recorded by artists diverse as Bob Dylan, Iggy Pop, Bonnie Raitt, Eric Clapton, B.B. King, Emmylou Harris but he vividly recalls his debut disc Hanging Around The Observatory .
“At 21 years old I hadn't found my voice, that's for sure,” Hiatt recalled.
“I was kind of untouched, really. I wasn't trying to imitate anybody but it took me a while to develop my artist self. I think I started to get things together around the time I made Riding With the King . One side of the record was made with Nick Lowe and the other side was made with Scott Matthews and Ron Nagle. I started to develop the sound that I would later draw from - that mix of roots, rock, rhythm and blues and country. It's the same sound I've drawn from ever since. Because I was an addict and alcoholic when I made that record, I couldn't sustain it. Once I sobered up in ‘84, things started to come together and then we made Bring the Family . Since that point I've been pretty true to myself although I love to experiment. I love all kinds of music and I don't like making the same record over and over again. I admire artists that stretch out and make all kinds of different records and I try to do that myself. I listen to my 21 year old self and sometimes I don't think I've learned a damn thing.”
Hiatt is still flattered by peers enriching his career and publishing by recording his songs.
“Well, it always blows my mind when someone records a song of mine,” Hiatt confessed.
“I feel like I'm a fan of so many of these artists, and I'm always amazed what they find in my song that I didn't necessarily know was there or they interpreted it in a way I hadn't heard before. Iggy Pop, for example, did such a great job with Something Wild . If anyone could put a different slant on that song it would be Iggy Pop. I'm a huge fan of his, by the way. It's such a thrill to hear your songs performed by other people, and I think one of the things I love most is that it is such a cross section of artists that record my songs and I am really honored by that. It's not one certain type of artist that will record one of my tunes and that means a lot to me.
“As far as some of my favorites, there's been so many. When Joe Cocker did Have a Little Faith I was so thrilled. B.B. King and Eric Clapton, two of my heroes doing Riding With the King . Willie Nelson singing The Most Unoriginal Sin and Neville Brothers singing Washable Ink - one of my early cuts. I just love that. Bonnie Raitt singing Thing Called Love kind of put me on the map in a lot of ways. And of course, having Bob Dylan, one of your all time heroes, cover one of your songs is just a thrill. It's endless, Emmylou Harris singing Icy Blue Heart and Johnny Adams doing She Said the Same Things to Me was just a thrill. Buddy Guy, the blues great, did Feels Like Rain .”