John Hiatt at Shelburne Museum

Doug Collette BY

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John Hiatt & the Combo
The Green at Shelburne Museum
Shelburne, Vermont
July 10, 2014

John Hiatt has become a past master at creating songs populated with characters full of real-life detail . Playing with the Combo on the Green at Shelburne Museum, he offered a selection of his original material that painted a self-portrait rendered even more vivid by the expertise of the musicians around him.

And it began from the very first selection, "Master of Disaster." While at one time this might have been a wry self-reference, as Hiatt concluded each refrain with the line ...'when he plays the blues...' and guitarist Doug Lancio stepped forward to rip off a couple sharp licks, it was clear the song had expanded in meaning. "Slow Turning" worked much the same way as Hiatt sang it with a knowing glow in his voice, as if he had just begun to realize its true significance in his life.

Another cull from Terms of My Surrender (New West, 2014), the twenty-second John Hiatt album, "Long Time Coming" furthered that theme as did Hiatt's pithy patter between songs: given his headlining status on his tour with Robert Cray, combined with the affectionate greeting the audience afforded him and the Combo as they sauntered on stage, he seems to have realized he no longer needs to work so hard to ingratiate himself with his audience. The insertion of the lighthearted "Perfectly Good Guitar" kept the mood from becoming too somber, while Hiatt's reference to the full moon over the Green Mountains as the real "Moonlight in Vermont" only solidified a personal connection between audience and artist, strengthened with "Crossing Muddy Waters" and "Cry Love."

Throughout the evening, Hiatt often traded his electric guitar for an acoustic instrument and, when doing so, the added instrumental depth emerged quite clearly from the clarity of the audio mix on the Green. Mixing the sonorities of Indian music and chain-gang blues, "Wind Don't Have to Hurry, " a tune from Terms of My Surrender, reinforced that virtue on an arrangement where vocalist Brandon Younger aided Hiatt in amplifying its ghostly air. The well- bonded rhythm section of bassist Nathan Gehri and drummer Kenneth Blevins artfully subdued themselves here, much like their fretboard compatriot Lancio whetted the appetite for more guitar solos each time he stepped into the spotlight.

Thus, by the time of the hushed introduction to "Have A Little Faith in Me," the long- term relationship between Hiatt and his fans was as clear as the broad dynamics of the well conceived (and executed) set list. That gospel-tinged number might've been an effective closer and, in turn, an ideal setup for a rowdy encore, but instead, "Riding with the King" concluded the set—representing the only forced gesture of the evening on the part of Hiatt and the Combo, its intent to create rambunctious good times succeeded insofar as the call for more from the audience was loud and sustained (albeit to no avail).

During the nearly ninety minutes straight that preceded this extended boogaloo that brought so many to their feet, the attendees had ensconced themselves leisurely on the grassy slope facing a panoramic summer sunset, accepting John Hiatt's songs as their own, the affectionate reciprocity bringing the tunes closer to the author's heart, even as he shared them.

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