John HiattTerms 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.
You should carry on reading, but at this stage of the game any music criticism about John Hiatt‘s latest work is, let’s hope, more or less irrelevant. Realistically all I may be able to achieve by writing this article is to (a) notify you that Hiatt has released a new album, Terms of My Surrender (which possibly demotes me from critic to copywriter, depending on what you think about critics) (b) remind you, that after 21 studio albums, Hiatt is a critically acclaimed and respected songwriter and (c) entertain, distract or enrage you for a short moment of time, when probably you should be doing something else far more important – like work, or playing with your children, or engaging with other human life forms. But to a certain extent this is the nature of the game.
Forty years on from his first album, Hiatt has lost none of his hunger or love for rootsbased Americana, while continually challenging himself to shift gears. His last set, 2012’s Mystic Pinball, was one of his best, full of richly textured tales of ordinary folk in extraordinary circumstances, but Terms Of My Surrender is a less storybased, arguably more primitive batch of songs. It’s produced by his longtime guitarist Doug Lancio, who persuaded his boss to reconnect with the acoustic guitar he’d pretty much ignored on recent previous releases.
John Hiatt has always had one foot in the blues, and he's decided to wade waist deep into the music on 2014's Terms of my Surrender. There isn't a lot of 12-bar on this album if you're a purist about such things, but the tone of this music is smoky and rich like a Deep South BBQ joint, which suits the gruff texture of Hiatt's voice just fine, and the rootsy mood of the songs is reinforced by the production and arrangements. Hiatt primarily plays acoustic guitar on Terms of my Surrender, which cuts back the volume of these performances but adds a lot to the slinky middle-of-the-night groove of the music; Doug Lancio, lead guitarist with Hiatt's road band the Combo, produced this album, and the results sound organic and spontaneous, more so than his previous albums with producer Kevin Shirley, without obscuring the easy precision of Hiatt and his bandmates.
As the opener of his 26th album drifts past in a blur of cliches (howling winds, lonesome whistles, wheels turning), it seems that John Hiatt has finally run out of words. Not so. The seasoned songwriter soon locates his mojo for a downbeat set of back-porch blues, produced by guitarist Doug Lancio but using Hiatt's band sparingly. It's the sound of a 61-year-old tussling with collapsed love affairs, bad habits and the vagaries of the road, delivered gruffly but with wit (Old People is gloriously non-PC) and engaging authenticity.
“Sometimes love can be so wrong/ Like a fat man in a thong,” John Hiatt muses on the title track of his new album, Terms of My Surrender. It’s a line that few songwriters would pen and fewer still can get away with, particularly as a signpost along the road to concluding, “I love you too much, baby, to ever say goodbye.” But that’s vintage Hiatt. His records don’t offer a mere window on the world, but rather a panoramic view, like an eagle (or, at times, a vulture) circling overhead, a sharp eye on all the grit, despair, warmth, and irony that life throws our way — often all at once.
In love, at least, Stina Tweeddale can’t catch a break. On the new album by the Glasgow duo Honeyblood, she is aggrieved and exasperated, falling hard only to be let down harder. Honeyblood is a bracing two-piece — Ms. Tweeddale sings lead and plays guitar, and Shona McVicar plays drums .
Both an iconoclast and an eccentric, John Hiatt has always remained an insightful singer/songwriter, one capable of touching on topics as varied as party time at tiki bars, male pattern baldness and the wastefulness of smashing perfectly guitars. With Terms of My Surrender, he unashamedly opts for matters of the heart with a set of songs based entirely on the blues. On the surface, this no-frills approach may seem something of a step backward, but thanks to Hiatt’s marble-mouthed vocals and determinedly gritty demeanor, it’s all adapted well.