album reviews

John Hiatt
Same Old Man
New West Records (2008)

Rarely could one win an argument by pleading, "Honey, I'm still the same old man." But John Hiatt sure comes close on the title track to his latest album. His scratchy voice evokes both weariness and tenderness, a blend so genuinely touching that his subject is certain to have forgiven him by the time she notices the snub hidden just beneath the surface: "I can still sparkle up your eyes/You can still cut me down to size."

That wry sense of humor paired with his deadpan, gruff delivery is Hiatt's secret weapon. On the album's opening track, "Old Days," he remembers the hardships of his early shows. Amid droll anecdotes about playing with more-established musicians (Sonny Terry, John Lee Hooker and John Hammond Jr., among others), he makes a jab at nostalgia itself: "Old days are coming back to me/Don't know what was so good about 'em, I played practically free."

Most of "Man" is spent reminiscing about matters of the heart: a fierce crush on a pretty girl in a flashy car ("Cherry Red"), unexpected forgiveness ("Love You Again") and a love that has grown over the years ("What Love Can Do"). Hiatt's daughter Lilly Hiatt adds harmonies to the latter two, her sweet voice offsetting his gruffness to amplify the songs' tender sentiments.

-- Catherine P. Lewis

.: Originally published: The Washington Post: 4 July 2008, Page WE10
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