CD: John Hiatt’s “Dirty Jeans and Mudslide Hymns”
(New West, 2011):
In “Til I Get My Lovin’ Back,” John Hiatt sings, “My friends are so wrong when they say, ‘Just go on’/And I say, ‘Where to and what for?'” And geographically speaking, Hiatt is all over the map on his new album, roaming from coast to coast – from “Adios to California” to “When New York Had Her Heart Broke,” with stops along the way in Alabama (“Train to Birmingham”) and Michigan (“Detroit Made”).
But a place to land isn’t the only thing that Hiatt is searching for with this album. He also seems to be seeking a more radio-friendly sound, and with producer Kevin Shirley (Aerosmith, Journey, the Black Crowes, etc.) behind the console that’s exactly what he got, although it’s not always in the service of the song. It’s a more polished, less organic approach, sonically speaking, dressed up with atmospheric keyboards and strings.
Still, Hiatt’s stellar songs (11 of ’em) and his instantly identifiable, still strong yet supple voice cut through the occasional over-production. Especially powerful are the opening “Damn This Town” (a stompin’, spitfire tale of family misfortune) and the closing “When New York Had Her Heart Broke” (a belated but potent 9/11 memorial hymn).