John Hiatt

Same Old Man

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John Hiatt's Same Old Man opens with the song "Old Days," in which he tells tales of life on the road sharing stages with several aging legends of the blues, and given the grainy drawl of his vocal on the track, one can be forgiven for thinking Hiatt has begun to turn into one of the grizzled old men he's singing about. But most of the tunes on Hiatt's 18th studio album find him in considerably stronger and more nimble voice, even though the blessings and trials of maturity are a recurring theme in these 11 songs. Hiatt produced and recorded Same Old Man at his home studio, with Luther Dickinson of the North Mississippi Allstars sitting in on guitar and mandolin while Patrick O'Hearn and Kenneth Blevins handled bass and drums, and while these sessions are dominated by a laid-back vibe informed by country blues, Hiatt sounds sharp and engaged on each track. While the songwriting is up to Hiatt's usual standards (which is to say it's quite good), as an album this is a more cohesive and emotionally effective set than he's offered since 1990's Stolen Moments. If "Cherry Red" is keyed to midlife nostalgia, his memories of cars, girls, and the Kingsmen are just flinty enough to avoid sounding sugary, and the culinary memories of "Our Time" convey a sense of opportunity lost with greater skill than most tunesmiths could bring to this material. And even on the less revelatory songs about love, Hiatt sings about the nuts and bolts of human relationships with the emotional gravity of someone who has learned plenty over the course of 56 years, and he writes and sings with the conviction of a true believer. More than a quarter century after breaking through as an "Angry Young Man," John Hiatt is neither these days, but Same Old Man shows he's learned a lot since then, and you can hear the lessons shining through in this music.

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