Choice Classic Rock

John Hiatt – The Eclipse Sessions

From on The Eclipse Sessions:

Four years on from his double Grammy nominated Terms of My Surrender, John Hiatt returns with an album that pares it down to basics, recorded primarily as a trio with bassist Patrick O’Hearn and Kenneth Blevins on drums augmented here and there by producer Kevin McKendree on organ and his teenage son, Yates, contributing additional guitar and engineering.  Taking its title from the fact that the August eclipse took place during the six days they were in McKendree’s studio, it slides between Hiatt’s staple genres, country and country blues, opening on the latter with the strum-a-long lope of Cry To Me, his warm, rough husk offering a shoulder  for heartbroken girls whose feelings have been trampled on by errant lovers, but treading into darker waters as he muses:

I Wonder why love is always looking for its own ghost
Or is that just what hurt people do
Find the ones who injured them the utmost
Practically beg ‘em to make their dreams come true

He maintains a similar rhythm and pacing, but ups the electric guitar work, for All The Way To The River, another dark lyric, this time about a woman driving through the night to commit suicide, though, if you want to be more optimistic, maybe it’s about her quitting New York that’s destroyed her soul and heading home to Nashville.

Shaded with just hints of organ, the acoustic Aces Up Your Sleeve is a simple wearied reflection on loss (“I don’t know if our love means anything anymore”) and change (“there’s no light on the barroom floors where you swept them all off their feet”) and then it’s into the first of the two funkier, more muscular cuts with the bluesy shuffle of an unreliable lover’s confession that he’s a Poor Imitation Of God. The other is the penultimate One Stiff Breeze, a rocking blast of a number that put me in mind of early Graham Parker & The Rumour.

Romance takes quite a battering here, emotional numbness in the aftermath of a relationship consumes the gruffly sung mid-tempo Nothing In My Heart (a thematic cousin to You’ve Got To Hide Your Love Away) while the choppier organ bolstered blues Over the Hill has him feeling his age (he’s actually only just turned 66) and there’s no time left for screw-ups, that “we’ll have to place our bets/On the dog with no regrets.”

On the upside, however, sung falsetto with a steady guitar riff, Outrunning My Soul is a chugging Memphis soul number playfully asking a lover to slow down a bit so he can keep up.

Strapping on the baritone guitar, Hide Your Tears is one of the moments when Hiatt and Prine coalesce, a reflection on wreckage left behind, of stories left untold that turns to thoughts of mortality, this time how “a man tries to outrun his death/Or a broken heart runs out of breath.”

With the younger McKendree on slide, The Odds of Loving You is old school acoustic Delta blues, before, pitching camp in Townes van Zandt’s backyard, the album ends with the Texicana waltzing Robber’s Highway, another number informed by world-weary thoughts of mortality and of time taking things away and the sun going down on life,  the sense of resignation and defeat achingly summed up in the chorus plea “Come and get me, Jesus/I don’t know/Come and get me cause I can’t go.”

To these ears, it’s his best work since Crossing Muddy Waters back in 2000, so, no, Jesus take a rain check, he most certainly can’t go yet.

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