Beneath this Gruff Exterior by C. Michael BaileyMore articles about John Hiatt
Beneath this Gruff Exterior
New West Records
John Hiatt and The Combo played an absolutely brilliant two-and-a-half hour set at the Lebanon Opera House on March 9th. In contrast to so many de rigeur returns for encores, these performers fully deserved the stomping cheering demand for more, and obliged with another thirty minutes of music. This came only after the bandleader graciously thanked the enthusiastic audience for coming out to see the musicians "do what they love the most."
Hiatt and his band were roughly a week into the tour at this point and not only had they jelled, they'd attained an unusually deep feel of collective trust that allowed them all, depending on their role, to play in the spur of the moment without sacrificing their unity. Bassist Patrick O'Hearn, for example, took chances in straying from the progression of songs numerous times, such as on "Cry Love," where confident drummer Kenneth Blevins would hold fast to the rhythm. And the latter never let him down, playing with braggadocio that heightened the natural drama of watching a musician in performance.
Doug Lancio was undoubtedly the most impressive player on the stage this night. On both guitars and mandolin, his combination of restraint and authority no doubt enticed more than one attendee, by the hour mark of the single set, to look forward to his solos more than anything else happening amongst the quartet. As on the poignant "Feels Like Rain," Lancio exhibited a natural flair for finding the proper effects to match the lyrics of the song.
That's not to overlook John Hiatt's crucial role in setting a tone for the The Combo. As sole vocalist and electric/acoustic rhythm guitarist, his muscular playing kept the more extended improvisations, such as on "Riding with the King," moving purposefully forward. This was not an arrangement of a singer/songwriter backed by accompanists, but a four-piece rock and roll band playing at its very highest level.
After reaching back and forth through his discography, including selections from new albumThe Open Road (New West Records, 2010) released the very day of the show, Hiatt spoke directly to the fans in front of him when he sang "Have A Little Faith," from his first great band album Bring the Family (A&M, 1987). Hitting, and ever-so effortlessly holding a falsetto note at the conclusion of this tune, Hiatt seemed to reaffirm an abiding loyalty, not just to his audience but himself as an artist of tenure, and his bandmates as empathetic collaborators.
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