John Hiatt’s New Collaboration Album with Jerry Douglas is a Blues-Oriented Americana Gem

In late March, I spotted and covered Mississippi Phone Booth, a tune from John Hiatt’s then-upcoming new collaboration album with Dobro resonator guitar master Jerry Douglas. Leftover Feelings since came out last Friday, May 21. While based on my still relatively limited knowledge of Hiatt’s previous catalog he doesn’t break new ground, I love the sound and high-quality handcrafted feel of the music, and feel confident enough to say if you dig Hiatt you’ll like this album!

As I noted in my previous post, while Hiatt and Douglas had known each other for years, the album marked the first time they recorded music together. Initially, Leftover Feelings was supposed to be released in April of last year. Like in so many other cases, COVID-19 threw a monkey wrench into everything. But there was one upside.

Hiatt and Douglas recorded the album at Nashville’s historic RCA Studio B during the shutdown, which they otherwise couldn’t have done. Usually, the space is used by the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum for public tours. The cool thing is the storied studio is the very same place where they likes of Elvis Presley, The Everly Brothers and Waylon Jennings once recorded.

From left: Jerry Douglas, Daniel Kimbro & John Hiatt

“The room’s just got a feel to it,” Hiatt told Paste. “My mind started pedaling back to when I was a little boy hearing ‘Blue Christmas’ every Christmas and ‘Love Me Tender,’ and all of the great songs recorded there just kinda blew my mind.”

“The whole time you’re there, when you’re not playing, you’re thinking about who has been in that room and played,” added Douglas. “All these great music producers and musicians walked in and out through that room, and it was their playhouse.” One can only imagine what a thrill it must have been to record in this famous place!

This brings me to the musicians playing on the album. Apart from Hiatt (vocals, acoustic guitar) and Douglas (Dobro, lap steel guitar, backing vocals), they include Jerry Douglas Band members Mike Seal (acoustic and electric guitar), Daniel Kimbro (bass, string arrangements) and Christian Sedelmyer (fiddle). In addition, there’s Carmella Ramsey (backing vocals). ‘So who’s playing the drums?’ you might ask yourself. Well, nobody – frankly, there’s no drummer needed in this case!

Let’s get to some music. Here’s opener Long Black Electric Cadillac. Like all of the 10 other tracks, the song was written by Hiatt. As this review by The Associated Press cleverly observed, the tune introduces “a new musical form — the 12-bar blues gone green.” A little excerpt from the lyrics helps illustrate the point: I got a long black electric Cadillac/She goes a thousand miles on a charge/I got a long black electric Cadillac/She goes a thousand miles on a charge/I’m runnin’ subterranean air conditioning/And a full electron photo array in my backyard…

While Mississippi Phone Booth is one of my early favorite tunes, I’m skipping it here, given I covered it before and go right to All the Lilacs in Ohio. It’s an acoustic stripped back version of a song Hiatt previously recorded for The Tiki Bar is Open, a studio album released on September 11, 2001.

I’m in Ashville is “a song about a guy who’s left his lover in all but his mind and heart,” Hiatt told Relix. “Jerry’s aching steel guitar floating above the rolling fiddle and the pulse of the bass and rhythm just expands on the dubious decision this fellow has made.” I love this tune. The warm sound is just beautiful!

On Little Goodnight things become slightly more electric, which is good for sound variety. It’s another tune Hiatt had released previously, in this case on his 2012 compilation Collected.

Let’s do one additional track: Keen Rambler. The above AP review characterizes the song as “spirited” (agree), comparing it to “a Chuck Berry car song, but it’s about walking.” Less sure about that. What I do know is I like the tune and that’s good enough for me to highlight it in this post.

Leftover Feelings is Hiatt’s 26th album and follows The Eclipse Sessions, his second live album from 2018. It was produced by Douglas and mastered by engineer Paul Blakemore. The album appears on New West Records, Hiatt’s eighth release on that label based in Nashville, Tenn. and Athens, Ga.

Sources: Wikipedia; Paste; Associated Press; Relix; YouTube

John Hiatt with The Jerry Douglas Band/Mississippi Phone Booth

I just love this clip of heartland rocker John Hiatt teaming up with Dobro resonator guitar master Jerry Douglas. Mississippi Phone Booth, written by Hiatt, is from Leftover Feelings, an upcoming collaboration album by the two artists scheduled for May 21.

As reported by Paste, while Hiatt and Douglas have known each other for years, the album marks the first time they have recorded music together. Initially, Leftover Feelings was supposed to come out in April of last year. But like in so many other cases, COVID-19 threw a monkey wrench into everything.

On the upside, Hiatt and Douglas ended up having four days at Nashville’s historic RCA Studio B during the shutdown, which otherwise would have been used by the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum for public tours. One can only imagine what it must have felt like to work in the same space where the likes of Elvis Presley, The Everly Brothers and Waylon Jennings once recorded.

John Hiatt and Jerry Douglas

“The whole time you’re there, when you’re not playing, you’re thinking about who has been in that room and played, Douglas told Paste. “All these great music producers and musicians walked in and out through that room, and it was their playhouse.”

“The room’s just got a feel to it,” added Hiatt. “My mind started pedaling back to when I was a little boy hearing ‘Blue Christmas’ every Christmas and ‘Love Me Tender,’ and all of the great songs recorded there just kinda blew my mind.”

As for Mississippi Phone Booth, Hiatt commented, “I maintain that I write fiction, but my stories are based on life experiences, or the experiences of people I know, or things I’ve read about and so on. And this one in particular chronicles my last sort of run with trying to make alcohol and drugs work successfully in my life, I’ll just put it that way!”

“I have a mental picture of exactly where he was standing in that phone booth, calling and just begging somebody, at least for the operator to stay on the line long enough for him to talk to somebody,” added Douglas. “It sounded like a miserable situation. But I try to bring…real life to what was there, to do what I could do to swamp it out a little bit.”

Last but not least, here’s how John Hiatt’s website describes the upcoming album: Leftover Feelings is neither a bluegrass album nor a return to Hiatt’s 1980s days with slide guitar greats Ry Cooder and Sonny Landreth, though Douglas’s opening riff on “Long, Black Electric Cadillac” nods to Landreth’s charged intro to “Tennessee Plates,” Hiatt’s epic tale of heisting Elvis Presley’s Cadillac, a car that was surely purchased with proceeds from some of the 250-plus songs the King recorded at Studio B.

There’s no drummer, yet these grooves are deep and true. And while the up-tempo songs are, as ever, filled with delightful internal rhyme and sly aggression, The Jerry Douglas Band’s empathetic musicianship nudges Hiatt to performances that are startlingly vulnerable. Built when Hiatt was five years old, Studio B was designed for music to be made in real time by musicians listening to each other and reacting in the emotional moment. That’s what happened here: Five players on the studio floor, making decisions on instinct rather than calculation.

Mississippi Phone Booth follows All the Lilacs in Ohio, another Hiatt song from Leftover Feelings, which was released upfront in early March. I certainly look forward to hearing the entire album.

Sources: Paste; John Hiatt website; YouTube

The Sunday Six

Celebrating music with six random songs at a time

The Sunday Six has become my favorite recurring feature of the blog. Highlighting six tunes from any genre and any time gives me plenty of flexibility. I think this has led to pretty diverse sets of tracks, which I like. There’s really only one self-imposed condition: I have to truly dig the music I include in these posts. With that being said, let’s get to this week’s picks.

Lonnie Smith/Lonnie’s Blues

Let’s get in the mood with some sweet Hammond B-3 organ-driven jazz by Lonnie Smith. If you’re a jazz expert, I imagine you’re aware of the man who at some point decided to add a Dr. title to his name and start wearing a traditional Sikh turban. Until Friday when I spotted the new album by now 78-year-old Dr. Lonnie Smith, I hadn’t heard of him. If you missed it and are curious, I included a tune featuring Iggy Pop in yesterday’s Best of What’s New installment. Smith initially gained popularity in the mid-60s as a member of the George Benson Quartet. In 1967, he released Finger Lickin’ Good Soul Organ, the first album under his name, which then still was Lonnie Smith. Altogether, he has appeared on more than 70 records as a leader or a sideman, and played with numerous other prominent jazz artists who in addition to Benson included the likes of Lou Donaldson, Lee Morgan, King Curtis, Terry Bradds, Joey DeFrancesco and Norah Jones. Here’s Lonnie’s Blues, an original from his above mentioned solo debut. Among the musicians on the album were guitarist George Benson and baritone sax player Ronnie Cuber, both members of the Benson quartet. The record was produced by heavyweight John Hammond, who has worked with Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen, Billie Holiday, Aretha Franklin, Leonard Cohen, Mike Bloomfield and Stevie Ray Vaughan, to name some.

John Hiatt/Have a Little Faith in Me

Singer-songwriter John Hiatt’s songs are perhaps best known for having been covered by numerous other artists like B.B. King, Bob Dylan, Bonnie Raitt, Emmylou Harris, Eric Clapton, Joe Cocker, Linda Ronstadt, Ry Cooder and Nick Lowe. While his albums received positive reviews from critics, it took eight records and more than 10 years until Hiatt finally had an album that made the Billboard 200: Bring the Family, from May 1987, which reached no. 107. The successor Slow Turning was his first to crack the top 100, peaking at no 98. If I see this correctly, his highest scoring album on the U.S. mainstream chart to date is Mystic Pinball from 2012, which climbed to no. 39. Hiatt did much better on Billboard’s Independent Chart where most of his albums charted since 2000, primarily in the top 10. Fans can look forward to Leftover Feelings, a new album Hiatt recorded during the pandemic with the Jerry Douglas Band, scheduled for May 21. Meanwhile, here’s Have a Little Faith in Me, a true gem from the above noted Bring the Family, which I first knew because of Joe Cocker’s 1994 cover. Hiatt recorded the album together with Ry Cooder (guitar), Nick Lowe (bass) and Jim Keltner (drums), who four years later formed the short-lived Little Village and released an eponymous album in 1992.

Robbie Robertson/Go Back to Your Woods

Canadian artist Robbie Robertson is of course best known as lead guitarist and songwriter of The Band. Between their July 1968 debut Music from Big Pink and The Last Waltz from April 1978, Robertson recorded seven studio and two live albums with the group. Since 1970, he had also done session and production work outside of The Band, something he continued after The Last Waltz. Between 1980 and 1986, he collaborated on various film scores with Martin Scorsese who had directed The Last Waltz. In October 1987, Robertson’s eponymous debut appeared. He has since released four additional studio albums, one film score and various compilations. Go Back to Your Woods, co-written by Robertson and Bruce Hornsby, is a track from Robertson’s second solo album Storyville from September 1991. I like the tune’s cool soul vibe.

Joni Mitchell/Refuge of the Roads

Joni Mitchell possibly is the greatest songwriter of our time I’ve yet to truly explore. Some of her songs have very high vocals that have always sounded a bit pitchy to my ears. But I realize that’s mostly the case on her early recordings, so it’s not a great excuse. Plus, there are tunes like Big Yellow Taxi, Chinese Café/Unchained Melody and Both Sides Now I’ve dug for a long time. I think Graham from Aphoristic Album Reviews probably hit the nail on the head when recently told me, “One day you’ll finally love Joni Mitchell.” In part, his comment led me to include the Canadian singer-songwriter in this post. Since her debut Song to a Seagull from March 1968, Mitchell has released 18 additional studio records, three studio albums and multiple compilations. Since I’m mostly familiar with Wild Things Run Fast from 1982, this meansbthere’s lots of other music to explore! Refuge of the Roads is from Mitchell’s eighth studio album Hejira that came out in November 1976. By that time, she had left her folkie period behind and started to embrace a more jazz oriented sound. The amazing bass work is by fretless bass guru Jaco Pastorius. Sadly, he died from a brain hemorrhage in September 1987 at the age of 35, a consequence from severe head injuries inflicted during a bar fight he had provoked.

Los Lobos/I Got to Let You Know

Los Lobos, a unique band blending rock & roll, Tex-Mex, country, zydeco, folk, R&B, blues and soul with traditional Spanish music like cumbia, bolero and norteño, have been around for 48 years. They were founded in East Los Angeles in 1973 by vocalist and guitarist David Hildago and drummer Louis Pérez who met in high school and liked the same artists, such as Fairport Convention, Randy Newman and Ry Cooder. Later they asked their fellow students Frank Gonzalez (vocals, mandolin, arpa jarocha), Cesar Rosas (vocals, guitar, bajo sexto) and Conrad Lozano (bass, guitarron, vocals) to join them, completing band’s first line-up. Amazingly, Hidalgo, Pérez, Rosas and Lozano continue to be members of the current formation, which also includes Steve Berlin (keyboards, woodwinds) who joined in 1984. Their Spanish debut album Los Lobos del Este de Los Angeles was self-released in early 1978 when the band was still known as Los Lobos del Este de Los Angeles. By the time of sophomore album How Will the Wolf Survive?, their first major label release from October 1984, the band had shortened their name to Los Lobos and started to write songs in English. In 1987, Los Lobos recorded some covers of Ritchie Valens tunes for the soundtrack of the motion picture La Bamba, including the title track, which topped the Billboard Hot 100 for three weeks in the summer of the same year. To date, Los Lobos have released more than 20 albums, including three compilations and four live records. I Got to Let You Know, written by Rosas, is from the band’s aforementioned second album How Will the Wolf Survive? This rocks!

Booker T. & the M.G.’s/Green Onions

Let’s finish where this post started, with the seductive sound of a Hammond B-3. Once I decided on that approach, picking Booker T. & the M.G.’s wasn’t much of a leap. Neither was Green Onions, though I explored other tunes, given it’s the “obvious track.” In the end, I couldn’t resist featuring what is one of the coolest instrumentals I know. Initially, Booker T. & the M.G.’s were formed in 1962 in Memphis, Tenn. as the house band of Stax Records. The original members included Booker T. Jones (organ, piano), Steve Cropper (guitar), Lewie Steinberg (bass) and Al Jackson Jr. (drums). They played on hundreds of recordings by Stax artists during the ’60s, such as Wilson Pickett, Otis Redding, Bill Withers, Sam & Dave, Carla Thomas, Rufus Thomas and Albert King. In 1962 during downtime for recording sessions with Billy Lee Riley, the band started improvising around a bluesy organ riff 17-year-old Booker T. Jones had come up with. It became Green Onions and was initially released as a B-side in May 1962 on Stax subsidiary Volt. In August of the same year, the tune was reissued as an A-side. It also became the title track of Booker T. & the M.G.’s debut album that appeared in October of the same year. In 1970, Jones left Stax, frustrated about the label’s treatment of the M.G.’s as employees rather than as musicians. The final Stax album by Booker T. & the M.G.s was Melting Pot from January 1971. Two additional albums appeared under the band’s name: Universal Language (1977) and That’s the Way It Should Be (1994). Al Jackson Jr. and Lewie Steinberg passed away in October 1975 and July 2016, respectively. Booker T. Jones and Steve Cropper remain active to this day. Cropper has a new album, Fire It Up, scheduled for April 23. Two tunes are already out and sound amazing!

Sources: Wikipedia; YouTube