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Published: 2011/08/03
by Brian Robbins

John Hiatt
Dirty Jeans And Mudslide Hymns

New West Records

Picking up where he left off on last year’s The Open Road, John Hiatt’s new Dirty Jeans And Mudslide Hymns has all the good stuff that you’ve come to expect from a classic Hiatt album: killer stories, sweet tears, foolish grins, and some wicked left arm tanning to be done while you cruise with your baby by your side.

Best of all, Hiatt has returned in company with the core band that brought The Open Road to life. Drummer Kenneth Blevins (a member of Hiatt’s longtime cohorts The Goners) has a history with Hiatt that goes back to 1988’s Slow Turning. Bassist Patrick O’Hearn locks on the groove so well with Blevins that you could easily believe that they went back 20-something years, too. And Doug Lancio is so stinking good (and versatile) on guitar and mando that it’s ridiculous. Remember, boys and girls: over the years Mr. Hiatt has shared the company of pickers such as Ry Cooder, David Immergluck, Sonny Landreth, and Luther Dickinson. I bow in complete and utter reverence to those players – and will unflinchingly add Lancio’s name alongside theirs when it comes to complementing the emotions of Hiatt’s lyrics while applying appropriate grooves and hooks as needed.

The album-opening “Damn This Town” is a slow and gritty cigarette-ground-under-the-workboot-heel kiss-off, delivered by a character who’s had enough of, well, everything. It’s as mean a tune as Hiatt’s ever offered, with Lancio’s wailing and howling guitar sounding as pissed-off and fed-up as the narrator – leaving you hoping that the poor bastard is gone by nightfall.

Don’t worry, though – the next cut, “Til I Get My Lovin’ Back”, will have you and your sweet one slow-dancing ‘round the kitchen – and the chorus of “I Love That Girl” is the kind of grinning-like-fools-while-skipping-hand-in-hand-down-the-sidewalk Hiatt singalong that we’ve all come to count on. (The man is still the master of the funky/geeky/corny declarations that you can’t help but be gathered up by.)

“Detroit Made” is the album’s hands-down kick-ass road song – pure glass-pack muffler raunch and fun. Blevins and O’Hearn propel the thing along while Hiatt sings the praises of his “deuce and a quarter” (that’d be a Buick Electra 225, boys and girls – now that was an automobile). Lancio chugs and burbles his way around the vocal until about the 2:22 mark, when Blevins hits the blinker and Hiatt pulls over to let Lancio by. What follows is a textbook example of tasteful nasty-ass guitar (yes, there is such a thing): 24 seconds of twang and growl that echoes classic Jimmy Vaughan back in the Fabulous Thunderbird days with a little bit of El Rayo-X-ish David Lindley thrown in. And just like that, Lancio’s out of the passing lane, Hiatt’s back on the mic, and O’Hearn and Blevins are locked in on that groove and ready to roll ‘til sunup. Yee-haw!

“Don’t Wanna Leave You Now” is reminiscent of Hiatt ache-to-the-marrow classics “Looks Like Rain” or “Lipstick Sunset” – it hurts, but it’s so lovely you’re in no rush for it to end. “All The Way Under” features some nice loosey-goosey interplay between Hiatt and Lancio’s acoustic guitars. “Hold On For Your Love” begins stark and raw, building to a roar of musical emotion before being stripped back to the bone in its final moments. And “When New York Had Her Heart Broke” closes the album on a note of solemn reflection, with Hiatt’s acoustic guitar gliding gently over a bed of soul tones. The lyrics are short, simple, and perfect – and leave nothing unsaid.

It’s classic John Hiatt, folks. It’s Hiatt and one of the best bands he’s stood alongside of. I’m serious. It’s good.

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