Album: John Hiatt

The Tiki Bar Is Open, Sanctuary
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The Independent Culture

It's heartening, after his acoustic album Crossing Muddy Waters, to find John Hiatt back working with a band again. And not just any band, but the Goners, the Louisiana trio based around the exceptional skills of the slide-guitarist Sonny Landreth, with whom Hiatt last worked on 1988's Slow Turning. They bring the surging momentum of a runaway 16-wheeler truck to the opener, "Everybody Went Low", and a louche barfly swagger to "The Tiki Bar Is Open"; they close the album with glittering showers of guitar notes on the trippy "Farther Stars", a lengthy rumination on destiny inspired by Hiatt's sister's battle against cancer. Much of the album, as you'd expect from a chap on the cusp of 50, is concerned with reminiscence and regret, Hiatt reflecting on a past in which he "took every powder and every pill" ("Something Broken"), and celebrating old times in "My Old Friend", a Springsteen-esque paean that refers to both "Like a Rolling Stone" and (less happily) Jethro Tull's Aqualung as social milestones in his life. The album's other recurrent theme is Hiatt's enduring love for his wife, best expressed in "Hangin' Round Here", in which he admits, "I guess it's you and me/ Stumbling to the 21st century." But the most startling piece is "I Know a Place", a song about patricide done in the vein of the three blues Kings, on which Hiatt unleashes a racked blues snarl of fearsome power, the most spine-tingling vocal performance I've heard all year.

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