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Tuesday, July 15, 2008

John Hiatt

Same Old Man (New West)

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  Along with the album’s country-leaning roots rockers, listeners of Same Old Man get a bit of the bittersweet, ripened wisdom of John Hiatt, whose voice registers somewhere between Philip Roth's aged sentimentality and Saul Bellow's caustic remembrances as he reflects on a life in love.

  Mixing the occasional saccharine-sweet generalization ("my heart burns cherry red for you") with picture-painting detail ("now you're feeding me fabulous Chinese takeout on the dampened bed sheets"), Hiatt rides the thematic line between the give/take, push/pull, fuck/fight nature of adult relationships.

  "On With You" borrows its murky drive from "All Along the Watchtower," and "Hurt My Baby" slowly burns like a late-era Johnny Cash dirge; but there are also plenty of clever Randy Newman-leaning swooners ("Our Time") and some Nick Lowe-ish sophisticated sing-a-longs ("What Love Can Do").

  The real standout is the “remember when” opener, "Old Days." Like listening to your favorite grandfather spin a yarn after a few cold ones—if your grandfather had opened for the likes of John Lee Hooker—it's a reminder that buddy tales often make for more interesting fodder than sweetheart stories.

  The heavy nostalgic bent of “Old Days” trembles like the passing between summer and autumn, a time for reflection with Hiatt's ever-earnest acoustic strummers and unmistakable molasses-in-the-throat growl. The album is a charming work of reconciliation and acceptance of growing up, not old.

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