is not the first such group collaboration in John Hiatt
's varied and lengthy career-North Mississippi Allstars
were integral to Master of Disaster
(New West Records, 2005). But there's an even more unusual kinship in play here between this gifted songwriter and The Jerry Douglas
, if only because this LP is even more deeply steeped in bluegrass style(s) than the comparably acoustic-based Crossing Muddy Waters
Perhaps due to his early experience working as a staff songwriter, John Hiatt has often been somewhat self-conscious as a tunesmith. Nevertheless, this resident of Nashville invariably manages to record new material so that the musicianship is fully on par with the songs. On "Keen Rambler," for instance, Douglas exudes the same joy making his dobro sing so effortlessly as Hiatt does nonchalantly tossing off the vocal. As relaxed as is the gait of the whole ensemble on "Music Is Hot"which almost but not quite belies its titleit is nevertheless as unified in its collective effort as on the two upbeat tracks that precede it, "Long Black Electric Cadillac" and "Mississippi Phone Booth."
Of course, the lighthearted, infectious tone of those two tunes lends itself to exposition of natural camaraderie. Still, such potential requires the participants to ignite it, which is exactly what Hiatt, Douglas and company manage to do in realizing the fundamental challenge of expert recording conducted in RCA's famed Studio B: capturing those evanescent moments when superior material inspires comparable playing and vice versa. Such is the sense with "All The Lilacs In Ohio," where the performance seems to have a life of its own, and producer Douglas, along with recording/mixing engineer Sean William Sullivan, manage to capture the room as well as the music playing in it.
With most of these eleven cuts hovering between the three or four and a half minute mark, Leftover Feelings
plays like a quick succession of lightning flashes captured in the proverbial bottle. And yet that dynamic doesn't preclude the contemplative effects of a song like "I'm In Asheville." On the contrary, that very brevity sustains the initial impact and deepens the subsequent impression of such material, thus nurturing the inclination to listen repeatedly and bask in the charms of its lyrics as well as its arrangement. There's nothing casual about the meeting John Hiatt's and the Jerry Douglas Band's musical minds, but neither is there any sense those involved fussed too much over the details.
On the contrary, everything seems to come naturally to these practiced collaborators for the duration of the LP. Even in a somewhat melancholy moment such as "Light of the Burning Sun," the 'less is more' premise prevails, in this case, with dobro and pedal steel fleshing out the fragile emotion(s) the front man infuses into the words he chose. Likewise, during "Little Goodnight," some brusque electric guitar from Mike Seal intertwines with violin to replicate the conflicting feelings that arise from the mini-drama sketched in the lyrics.
And it's all of a piece, as are the best moments throughout Leftover Feelings
. Like the knowing air in Hiatt's vocal on "Buddy Boy," echoed by the comping of strings (arranged by Christian Sedelmeyer) behind him, his voice gives way to one of the few solos on the album: it's all worth becoming engrossed in the sequence of sounds, replete with surprise as is invariably the case. "Changes In My Mind" may be one of the few songs of pure personal expression from John Hiatt here, but the Jerry Douglas Band is just as fully invested in playing it as the author is in singing it, that reciprocal dynamic ultimately the key to the success of this track and, indeed, this whole outing.
Long Black Electric Cadillac; Mississippi Phone Booth; The Music Is Hot; All The Lilacs In Ohio; I’m In Asheville; Light Of The Burning Sun; Little Goodnight; Buddy Boy; Changes In My Mind; Keen Rambler; Sweet Dream.
John Hiatt: guitar; Jerry Douglas: background vocals; Daniel Kimbro: tic-tac bass, string arrangements; Mike Seal: acoustic and electric guitars; Christian Sedelmyer: string arrangements.