John Hiatt: Slow Turning (1988)

800px-John_Hiatt_and_The_Combo_ZMF_2015_jm43231.jpgSlow Turning is probably John Hiatt’s most accessible album.  Hard to believe it is over 30 years old.  Is Hiatt a folk singer, a pop singer, a blues singer, a country singer?  He’s a bit of all of those styles.  Hiatt wasn’t the first songwriter to blend styles, but he became one of the most notable.

“…an artist on par with American greats such as Bob Dylan, Tom Petty, Paul Simon and Bruce Springsteen.” – Guitar Player Magazine

Hiatt has a deep, somewhat gravelly voice, but he is able to sing with great feeling and inflection.  His writing reminds me of a swampy James Taylor.  Hiatt has always been a popular songwriter, his songs covered by many artists.  Hiatt’s songs are confessional, typical of what you would find in country songs, but he gives them a pop veneer. In 2008, he was inducted into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame.  That’s a very selective group.

Hiatt first found fame as a songwriter, basing himself in Nashville.  “Sure As I’m Sittin Here” was recorded by Three Dog Night in 1974.  Success came slowly, as he went through several recording contracts without selling records, although his songs were catching the attention of mainstream singers.  For awhile, Hiatt was part of the new wave universe, friendly with Elvis Costello and Nick Lowe.

Bob Dylan, Willie Nelson, Rubin Blades, Bonnie Raitt, Rosanne Cash, Bon Jovi, Joe Cocker, Carl Perkins, Gregg Allman, Ricky Nelson, Delbert McClinton and many others covered Hiatt songs.

Each album shows growth, like rings of the tree, although he hasn’t charted a career path for pop stardom.  Being the biggest spoon in the drawer isn’t his plan.  Changes in record labels, shifting styles, changing audience buying habits and other factors have made his career a rather unusual ride.  He tours with a band sometimes, often solo and has even been a part of a band.

In 1987, his album Bring the Family, included one of his best known songs “Have a Little Faith in Me,” and “Thing Called Love,” that Bonnie Raitt would record to great success.

In 1992, Hiatt joined Ry Cooder, Nick Lowe and Jim Keltner in Little Village.  All had worked on Hiatt’s Bring the Family album.  Little Village produced one album and one tour and then went their separate ways.  This was more of an attempt as mainstream success, and naturally that didn’t work.  The songs lacked inspiration and the playing lacked heart, two things Hiatt brings to his own work in spades.

Slow Turning was produced by Glyn Johns (Beatles, Who, Eagles), who brought his warm, earthy recording skills to Hiatt’s mainly acoustic sound.   All songs written by Hiatt except for “Tennessee Plates” written by Hiatt and Mike Porter.  Several of the songs on this album would either be used in films or covered by other artists.

Here are the songs:

“Drive South” A driving, acoustic song, a funky, country-rock dandy.

I didn’t say we wouldn’t hurt anymore
That’s how you learn: you just get burned
But we don’t have to feel like dirt anymore
Though love’s not earned; baby, it’s our turn
We were always looking for true north
With our heads in the clouds, just a little off course
I left the motor running
Now, if you’re feeling down and out…
Come on, baby, drive south with the one you love

“Trudy and Dave” A acoustic guitar and mandolin driven song. A story song. Great picking.

Whatever you don’t follow that shot
She rang those words out with all she got
With a baby and the laundry in the Chevrolet
Well, he thought about following anyway
But he drove ’em to the strip mall laundromat
In his three-day beard and his red man hat
Trudy washed their bell bottom jeans
While that baby just sat there lookin’ mean
Trudy and Dave
They’re out of their minds

“Tennessee Plates”  A bit more of a rockabilly groove with electric guitars.  A version of this song appeared in Thelma and Louise.

Woke up in a hotel and I didn’t know what to do
I turned the T-V on and wrote a letter to you
The news was talkin’ ’bout a dragnet up on the interstate
Said they were lookin’ for a Cadillac with Tennessee plates
Since I left California baby, things have gotten worse
Seems the land of opportunity for me is just a curse
Tell that judge in Bakersfield that my trial will have to wait
Down here they’re lookin’ for a Cadillac with Tennessee plates

“Icy Blue Heart” A slow-burning country song, of great emotion.

She came onto him like a slow movin’ cold front
His beer was warmer than the look in her eyes
She sat on a stool, he said, “What do you want?”
She said, “Give me a love that don’t freeze up inside.”

He said, “I have melted some hearts in my time dear
But to sit next to you, Lord, I shiver and shake
And if I knew love, well, I don’t think I’d be here
Askin’ myself if I’ve got what it takes.”

“Sometime Other than Now”  A mid-tempo song with a country beat, a great sing along.

It takes what it takes, that’s what they told us girl
We’ve done a lot of dumb things, we’ll probably do some more
On two different paths, runnin’ ’round in different worlds
We finally found each other, who we were lookin’ for
Now I see my own reflection
When I give my love to you
And it’s shot back like an arrow
So straight and true

“Georgia Rae”  An upbeat track, one of his most accessible songs, an infectious melody.

I know a girl mess with your mind
She’ll come to you in the summer sometime
She’ll talk about things you don’t understand
But you better keep to the matters at hand
Before the whole damn thing unwinds

“Ride Along”  Has a driving beat, almost honky-tonk.  The Rolling Stones could do a number like this, the guitars feel like Richards/Wood.

You’re just another joker
With one chance in hell
Of ever pullin’ that trigger
Of ever feelin’ too well

“Slow Turning” A country-rock foot stomper, with the familiar Hiatt groove.

I always thought our house was haunted
But nobody said boo to me
I never did get what I wanted
Now I get what I need
It’s been a slow turnin’
From the inside out
A slow turnin’
But you come about

“It’ll Come to You”  Bluesy, riff.  Great distorted guitar work.  Hiatt’s rough voice is perfect for this song.

And that business partner you took for every red cent
You can’t even remember where all of that money went
Some on liquor and women, maybe a little rent
But as far as paying it back, Buddy, you ain’t made a dent
It’ll come to you
Don’t look back, it’ll come to you
In the middle of the night, with you covers pulled up tight
It’ll come to you

“Is Anybody There?”  A confessional, mid-tempo, quasi-gospel song of the heart.

Well I’m out here on my own
Following a star
Asking on my knees, for some direction, please
And, God, you know that’s hard
Because I’m such a stubborn man
Lord, I’m stubborn as a mule
Even though I struggle some, I believe a change will come
And I hear you love a fool
I see a road and a flash of lightning
Let me tell you it’s frightening

“Paper Thin” A rock beat, a down and funky groove.  This is a signature Hiatt song.

When you’re paper thin
Yeah, read all about it
When you were out of luck, well, luck was doin’ all right
Now you’re paper thin
Yeah, they can see right through ya
You just cut your little finger on the edge of the night
Now, do I really have to be responsible
For what I did between those tavern walls?
I was just mixing up some chemicals
You could’ve heard a pin drop, could have heard time crawl

“Feels Like Rain”  A slow, bluesy groove, Hiatt has lots of echo in his voice and reverb in his guitar.  The melody fits like a comfortable jacket, loose and warm.  Ray Charles could be singing this soulful song.

Down here the river meets the sea
And in the sticky heat I feel ya’ open up to me
Love comes out of nowhere baby, like a hurricane
And it feels like rain

Underneath the stars lying next to you
Wondering who you are baby
How do you do?
When the clouds blow in across the moon
And the wind howls out your name
Feels like rain


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