John Hiatt: Terms of My Surrender

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John Hiatt
Terms of My Surrender
(New West)
4 out of 5 stars

“I can be rough/sometimes I can be tender,” sings John Hiatt on the title track of his twenty-sixth studio album, and that’s a reasonable summation of both his career and recent output. The Midwestern singer/songwriter has been on a late life roll, releasing seven albums of original material in the past decade, each often shifting gears from the other. Here he scales down from his previous two harder, somewhat slickly produced offerings for his most blues oriented, organic collection. Longtime Combo backing band guitarist Doug Lancio handles production, recording Hiatt and his group live.

The result is a warm, generally introspective but far from musty set that revels in predominantly acoustic material sung with Hiatt’s increasingly gruff, whiskeyed voice. There’s a low key, greasy, swampy, Delta blues texture epitomized by the shuffling, down and out “Face of God” where he confesses to an ex-flame “my eyes are blind from crying/don’t know how many more tears I’ve got.” Hiatt bounces back with the sweet, folksy love song “Marlene,” a track that seems like he’s been playing his old JJ Cale records.

The mood turns darker on the chilling “Here to Stay” where Hiatt uses the seasons to describe a withering love with a passion and emptiness that’s moving and real.  He lightens up for the humorous “Old People,” an alternately funny if somewhat obvious observation on its titular subject. Far better is the grumpy, grizzled, gut bucket “Nothin’ I Love” where a life filled with bad habits is driving the protagonist to an early grave.

Whether it’s due to advancing age or a fine tuned muse, Hiatt’s rarely been in better form. There may be no future “Thing Called Love” classics here, yet it feels that Hiatt is celebrating his veteran status and thankfully shows no signs of slowing down.

Note: Deluxe versions of the album include a worthwhile if abbreviated 40 minute live DVD from a recent tour stop in his adopted hometown of Franklin, Tennessee.

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