John Hiatt: Same Old Man


Same Old Man may be the most accessible album of John Hiatt’s career. But it’s worth serious note that the rewards of hearing this album (repeatedly) far outweigh its simplicity and that’s due to the strength of the songs. Tunes such as “Cherry Red” and “Hurt My Baby” are just two instances in which the author turns the usual conceits of composition inside out.

Those songs don’t get much elaboration or decoration here. It’s easy to imagine Hiatt strumming out these tunes by himself on the folk circuit this summer (and beyond. The rhythm section of Kenneth Blevins on drums and Patrick O’Hearn on bass is merely subtle, authoritative emphasis to the author’s own self-effacing delivery of lyrics. Yet there is much more going on below the surface, on both those fronts, than a cursory listen may discern.

“What Love Can do,’ for instance, has more to do with acknowledging the passage of time in ourselves and others than a romantic epiphany. Similarly, “Ride My Pony” describes the sensation of the spontaneous joy of childhood even as the years go by. Bob Dylan’s influence has never been so obvious on John Hiatt as in “On With You”—where the verses resemble a re-write of “All along the Watchtower—“ or “Let’s Give This Love a Try”– which sounds inspired by “Tangle Up in Blue”—but Dylan could never be so open as Hiatt is on those aforementioned songs.

The production of Same Old Man never calls attention to itself and neither does the musicianship: The North Mississippi AllStars’ Luther Dickinson (who with his brother Cody has toured and recorded with Hiatt in the past) displays dexterity comparable to his restraint as a guitarist; his fills are a less obvious echo of Hiatt’s R &B roots than the background vocalists of “On with You” while the dobro he plays, like the slight echo on Hiatt’s vocal during “Hurt My Baby,” is indicative of the small touches that make Same Old Man, simultaneously, so distinctive and so memorable.

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