Productive and consistently good are two attributes that don't usually go together in the record making business, but it's been John Hiatt's hallmark for a while, now. Particularly at the start of the new century, from Crossing Muddy Waters (2000) on, Hiatt has made a shiny fresh disc of new tunes every year or so and there's been little to complain about them. Less than a year and a half from another solid product with The Open Road comes Dirty Jeans and Mudslide Hymn. It's got the same backing band as Road and Hiatt's gritty, direct tunesmithing remains intact. The difference is this time Hiatt reached out to a name producer to helm the project, and Kevin Shirley (Joe Bonamassa, Aerosmith, Journey, Led Zeppelin) was tabbed for the job.
Shirley's predilection for bigger sounds than the ones we've grown accustomed to hearing on Hiatt's recent releases assures that this record stands apart among the 21st century offerings, but not by that much, really. I suspect the frustration that permeates the crunchy Damn This Town" (video above) would still be there without Shirley, and the hollow reverb of the country poem Til I Get My Lovin' Back" makes the song even more like a Hiatt gem. I Love That Girl" is a toe tapping country rocker that brings us back squarely back to his late 80s-early 90s peak. Speaking of which, it's not hard to imagine Don't Wanna Leave You Now" as a follow-up to Have A Little Faith In Me." Elsewhere, Hiatt is putting his Nashville-inspired ditties on display with just the right amount of twang and ruggedness to meld the better elements of rock, country and folk into something that we all identify with the man behind this music.
Put more succinctly, the success of this John Hiatt record, as all his other ones, hinges on his songs. Yes, he can still write 'em.
Dirty Jeans and Mudslide Hymn was released August 2.