Album: John Hiatt & The Goners

Beneath This Gruff Exterior, Sanctuary
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The Independent Culture

"Well, I do my best thinking sitting on my ass," claims John Hiatt in "Uncommon Connection", the opening track of this, his 18th release ­ and, what with sitting in a car seat travelling between gigs, sitting around at home trying to make up songs, and generally surrendering to the weariness of 50 years of unhealthy habits, he's clearly getting to do a fair bit of thinking these days. Such is the impression given by this first album credited jointly to Hiatt and his band The Goners. As you might expect, there's a lot of 50-something reflection here, prompted by things like old flames, driving his daughter off to college, and hankering after the economical truckstop diners of pre-Starbucks America. There's even a touching tribute to his mutt, "My Dog and Me", bashed out to a rhythm of tambourine and slapped thighs. As ever, he has the knack of treating serious subjects like depression ("The Nagging Dark") and separation ("Missing Pieces") with a resilient rock'n'roller's spirit, without demeaning himself, his material, or his audience. Presented with some nice dobro touches and a Dylanesque harmonica break, "Missing Pieces" in particular is a touching lament for the way that separation leaves one with just fragments of love: "A false move here, a stumble there/ A box of letters and a lock of hair/ That's all that's left when I turn out the light/ I count the missing pieces every night". The Goners back Hiatt up with their usual emphatic, bluesy panache.

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