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Album Review: John Hiatt – Terms of My Surrender

3 min read

It takes a lifetime to collect enough stories worth telling. Stories that prove you’ve experienced it all and have somehow managed to escape death and die twice while living to tell us about it. With over 30 plus years in the music industry John Hiatt tells his story with his 22nd album Terms Of My Surrender. Hiatt had relative commercial success in the 80’s with hit single Have A Little Faith In Me but is better known for his writing ability with artists like Bob Dylan, Eric Clapton & B.B. King covering his music. He may be at the back end of his career but he delivers something only age could produce and is worth listening to with this latest record.

John Hiatt Terms of my SurrenderTerms of My Surrender sets up home within the blues genre. The album opens with Long Time Coming, a reflective and deep gospel-rich song. It’s a kind of homecoming for the lonely wanderer who longs for peace and lost love. It sets the scene perfectly for the rest of the album leaving no doubt that you’re in a small town in the country. His voice is husky and sings mostly in the low register having lost his high range over the years. The backing vocals are placed beautifully in the recording and the whole band sit back on the beat creating the mellow mood required.

Face Of God offers a hearty performance that feels like a jam session captured under campfire. It’s an acoustic track with the harmonica whistling and Hiatt howling. The guitar riff keeps the track driving forward while John’s strong vocals help push the song along.

Marlene is a happy love song that you can’t resist liking. It has a slight reggae strum to it and Hiatt sings with a half drunken style vocal trying to woo his woman. This has more of a country feel to it and provides a nice break from the predominantly bluesy vibe of the album.

Hiatt come to terms with tough love in Baby’s Gonna Kick. The lyrics best describe the song when he sings “I’m riding downtown down to John Lee Hooker, got my mind set on a slow heat cooker, my babe’s gonna kick me out someday”. He sings with almost jubilation that he may be set free from his woman someday but clearly sounds terrified of the day when it comes. Another happy blues number that has some kick to it with some nice simple drumming and a memorable harmonica solo.

The album titled track Terms of My Surrender reminds me of the Fats Waller jazz standard Ain’t Misbehavin in terms of song structure and Hiatt sings like jazz legend Louis Armstrong with his gravelly vocals. He delicately masters some challenging jumps from low range to falsetto with ease. The guitar solo is beautiful; nothing complex, just pure notes that fill the air nicely. The backing vocalists on the record deserve credit as they sing throughout the album with reverence and solemnity like a choir in a large chapel. It’s a number that can make you cry and smile at the same time and makes the album in my opinion.

With so much experience and wisdom to share it seems like this album was more about Hiatt capturing this significant stage of life more so than doing something completely new. It’s an old man singing the blues while leaving some pearls of wisdom for us who haven’t been there yet. It almost makes old age something to look forward to if you have lived through hell and are around to tell the story.