What I’ve Been Listening to: John Hiatt/Perfectly Good Guitar

John Hiatt is a great artist I’ve been aware of for many years. I’m glad his excellent recent collaboration album with Jerry Douglas, Leftover Feelings, brought the acclaimed singer-songwriter back on my radar screen. It finally made me start exploring some of Hiatt’s other albums in their entirety, including Perfectly Good Guitar, his 11th studio release that appeared in September 1993. I’m sure Hiatt aficionados are well aware of it; if you’re not and dig heartland and roots-oriented rock, you’re in for a treat.

Hiatt who was born in Indianapolis had a difficult childhood. After the death of his older brother and his father, he used watching IndyCar races and listening to music by the likes of Elvis Presley, Bob Dylan and blues artists as escape mechanisms. At the age of 11, Hiatt learned to play guitar and started his music career as a teenager in Indianapolis, playing local venues with the a variety of bands.

When he was 18, Hiatt moved to Nashville, Tenn. where he landed a job as a songwriter for the Tree-Music Publishing Company. He also continued local performances, both solo and with a band called White Duck. Hiatt got his break in June 1974 when Three Dog Night turned his song Sure As I’m Sitting Here into a top 40 hit. His original version he had released as a single in February that year had gone nowhere.

In July 1973, Hiatt recorded his debut album Hangin Around The Observatory, which came out the following year. While it received favorable reviews, the album was a commercial failure. When the same thing happened with his sophomore release Overcoats, his label Epic Records was quick to drop him. Meanwhile, other artists kept covering Hiatt’s songs. Unfortunately, the story pretty much kept repeating itself until Bring the Family from May 1987, finally giving Hiatt his first album to make the Billboard 200, reaching no. 107.

Bring the Family featured the gems Thing Called Love and Have a Little Faith in Me, which became hits for Bonnie Raitt and Joe Cocker, respectively. Hiatt’s songs have also been covered by an impressive and diverse array of other artists like B.B. King, Bob Dylan, Buddy Guy, Emmylou Harris, Joan Baez, Linda Ronstadt, The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band and Willy DeVille, and the list goes on and on.

To date, Hiatt has released 28 albums, including two live records and two compilations. In 1991, he also formed the short-lived group Little Village together with Ry Cooder, Nick Lowe and Jim Keltner. Previously, Hiatt had worked with each of the three artists on Bring the Family. After issuing a self-titled album in February 1992 and a short supporting tour the group disbanded.

Let’s get to some music from Perfectly Good Guitar. Here’s the great opener Something Wild. Like all other tracks except one, the tune was solely written by Hiatt. I dig the nice driving drum part by Brian McLeod. With the recent death of Charlie Watts, perhaps it’s not surprising that Satisfaction came to mind right away!

The title track perfectly captures my sentiments when I see footage of Pete Townshend trashing his guitar at the end of a Who gig; or Jimi Hendrix setting his guitar on fire for that matter. Oh, it breaks my heart to see those stars/ Smashing a perfectly good guitar/I don’t know who they think they are/Smashing a perfectly good guitar…Yes, of course, it was all for show and I believe Townshend at least glued some of his smashed guitars back together. And while I certainly don’t support jail sentences for guitar-smashing, destroying instruments still rubs me the wrong way! Instead, make some kid happy and give it to them! Who knows, you might even change their trajectory!

Another nice track is Buffalo River Home. I really like the guitar work on that tune.

Another track that got my attention, primarily because of the drum part, is Blue Telescope. McLeod’s drum work reminds me a bit of Steve Gadd’s action on Paul Simon’s 50 Ways to Leave Your Lover. I have no idea whether Gadd’s unique drum part served as an inspiration here. Regardless, it sure as heck sounds cool to me!

The last track I’d like to call out is Old Habits, which has a great bluesy vibe. It’s the one song on the album Hiatt co-wrote with somebody else: Female singer-songwriter Marshall Chapman. Similar to Hiatt, it appears her songs have been covered by many other artists, such as Joe Cocker, Jimmy Buffett, Emmylou Harris, Irma Thomas and Ronnie Milsap.

Before wrapping up this post, I’d to acknowledge the other fine musicians on this great album. In addition to Hiatt (guitar, vocals, piano, organ) and MacLeod (drums, percussion), they include Michael Ward (guitar), Ravi Oli (electric sitar; Ravi Oli is a pseudonym of David Immerglück), Dennis Locorriere (harmony vocals) and John Pierce (bass guitar).

Perfectly Good Guitar was Hiatt’s last studio album with A&M Records. Once again, another great record failed to meet the commercial expectations of the label, though ironically, it became Hiatt’s most successful record on the U.S. mainstream charts to date, peaking at no. 47 on the Billboard 200. Hiatt subsequently signed with Capitol Records, which released his next two studio albums, including the Grammy-nominated Walk On from October 1995.

Sources: Wikipedia; YouTube

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Best of What’s New

A selection of newly released music that caught my attention

This doesn’t happen very often. As I was browsing and sampling newly released songs, I quickly realized there were a good amount of new tunes I could have featured in this Best of What’s New installment. During most weeks, it’s relatively easy to select four tracks that rise to the top based on my taste. This time, I could have included nine or 10, so I decided to broaden the set from the usual four to six tunes.

The result is an eclectic selection, including indie rock, post-hardcore rock, alternative rock, pop-oriented country, searing rock and even some bossa nova. All tracks appear on albums that were released yesterday (May 21). Hope you find some music in here you like!

Storefront Church/Smile-Shaped Scar

According to an artist page on the website of their record label Sargent House, Storefront Church is a Los Angeles-based project around singer-songwriter Lukas Frank. Smile-Shaped Scar, co-written by Frank and guitarist Waylon Dean Reactor, is a tune from the outfit’s debut album As We Pass. The project included more than 20 collaborators. Sargent House describes the outcome as “a sweeping artistic statement that paints dark, weathered landscapes paired with Frank’s mournful croon and howls summoned via poignant songwriting that recalls the likes of Roy Orbison, Scott Walker, and Jeff Buckley.” While the lyrics aren’t exactly cheerful, I really dig the sound of this tune, which is quite catchy as well. Check it out!

Fiddlehead/Million Times

Fiddlehead, which has been active since 2014, are a rock band from Boston, featuring Patrick Flynn (vocals), Alex Henery (guitar), Alex Dow (guitar), Casey Nealon (bass) and Shawn Costa (drums). Wikipedia characterizes them as a post-hardcore supergroup bringing together former members from various other bands, including Have Heart, Basement, Big Contest, Intent, Youth Funeral, Death Injection and Glory – frankly, all groups I don’t know! Fiddlehead released their debut EP Out of the Bloom in 2014. Their first full-length album Springtime and Blind followed in 2018. Million Times, credited to the entire band, is a fairly melodic rocker from Fiddlehead’s new sophomore album Between the Richness. Here’s the official video that was released in March.

Counting Crows/Elevator Boots

There’s a name I hadn’t heard for quite some time. Alternative rock band Counting Crows entered my radar screen in late 1993 with Mr. Jones, the catchy lead single from their excellent debut album August and Everything After. The band was formed by lead vocalist Adam Duritz and producer and guitarist David Bryson in San Francisco in 1991. Together with Charlie Gillingham (keyboards, accordion, clarinet, backing vocals), Duritz and Bryson remain as original members in the group’s current line-up, which also features David Immerglück (guitars, bass, pedal steel guitar, banjo, mandolin, backing vocals), Millard Powers (bass, rhythm guitar, backing vocals), Dan Vickrey (lead guitar, banjo, backing vocals) and Jim Bogios (drums). To date, Counting Crows have released seven studio and various compilation and live albums. Elevator Roots, written by Duritz, is a song from the band’s new EP Butter Miracle Suite One, their first studio release since 2014. I like it!

Jordan Davis/I Still Smoked

Jordan Davis is a Nashville-based pop-oriented country singer-songwriter who originally hails from Shreveport, La. According to his artist profile on Apple Music, Davis had music in his bloodline. His uncle Stan Paul Davis wrote country hits for Tracy Lawrence and others in the ’90s, and in 2012, Jordan made his way to Music City to give his own songs a push. Five years later, his debut single, “Singles You Up,” stampeded up the country charts and went double platinum. His next couple of singles, “Take It From Me” and “Slow Dance in a Parking Lot,” became country smashes too, as did the album they appeared on, 2018’s Home State (his studio debut album). I Still Smoked, co-written by Davis, Jonathan Singleton and Randy Montana, is a melodic tune from Davis’ new sophomore album Buy Dirt.

Ayron Jones/Mercy

Ayron Jones is a guitarist and singer-songwriter from Seattle. Jones has been active since the age of 19 when he started performing at local bars. In 2010, he formed Ayron Jones and the Way, a trio influenced by the likes of Cream, Jimi Hendrix Experience, Stevie Ray Vaughan and Double Trouble, and Prince and the Revolution. A gig at a Seattle bar in 2012 led to their discovery by local rapper, songwriter and record producer Anthony Ray, aka Sir Mix-a-Lot. The band’s debut album Dream appeared in October 2013. Jones has since released two additional albums including his new one Child of the State. Here’s Mercy co-written by Jones, Marti Fredericksen and Scott Stevens. Jones’ guitar-playing style has been compared to Gary Clark Jr. and Vaughan. This rocks quite furiously. Check out the official video.

Marinero/Through the Fog

Let’s wrap up this post on a softer note: Through the Fog, a track from Hella Love, the debut album by Marinero. According to his Bandcamp profile, Marinero is the moniker for Jess Sylvester. Sylvester who grew up in San Francisco and is now based in Los Angeles, is of Mexican heritage. It’s difficult to classify or generalize about Marinero’s music or identity, notes his profile. To him, it’s important to let his music do the talking. “I’m Chicanx, a bay native, biracial, and I’ve luckily gotten to travel and spend time in Mexico and I feel like my personality and specific musical tastes come through on this album… Pulling sonic influences from classic Latin American groups and international composers from the 60’s & 70’s: Los Terricolas, Ennio Morricone, Esquivel, Carole King and, Serge Gainsbourg Hella Love finds Sylvester fusing classical arrangements with a variety of different genres, evoking a sonic nostalgia blended with other contemporary artists like Chicano Batman, Connan Mockasin, and Chris Cohen. I dig this tune’s jazzy bossa nova groove.

Sources: Wikipedia; Storefront Church Sargent House artist page; Apple Music; Marinero Bandcamp profile; YouTube