Living Hiatt Off the Hog

The new album features an array of themes, ranging from poetic injustice to pure Hiatt whimsy. On the exhilaratingly sarcastic tirade "Shredding the Document," with its contagious chorus, acoustic guitar flourishes, and whiny ELO-loaded harmonies, Hiatt steps back with hands on hips and shakes his head in disbelief as he skewers everything from daytime talk shows to the Eagles reunion. Then he riddles the middle of the song with a sumptuous harpsichord solo courtesy of Benmont Tench, a long-time member of Tom Petty's Heartbreakers: "I don't know who killed who/I'm having a sex change," Hiatt sings as he stacks up a random sampling of Montel and Ricki topics. The song began, he describes with a chuckle, as "one of my rants. It was an answer to the premise that these people come on these shows and tell these amazing stories. It's just whacked out." And as for his dig at Henley, Frey, et al.: "I threw that in because they said they'd never get together again, and here they are charging a hundred bucks a ticket."

Elsewhere, the rollicking "Cry Love" finds Hiatt evaluating a friend's relationship with a loser beau: "Throwing up ashes on the floor/If this is a lesson in love/well, that's what it's for." As he explains now, "This guy kinda walked, stomped on her, ripped her heart out, stomped on it, and my wife and I were fond of her and just put up with him to an extent." Finally, "I Can't Wait," a soulful ode to loved ones back home that Hiatt sings with Raitt, wraps up the recurring theme of life on the road.

Hiatt's skill at setting his sometimes caustic lyrics to a panoply of tempos and rhythms continues apace on Walk On. Overall, he never strays too far from the rustic timbre that dominates his recent albums. But here and there he dabbles: You'll hear David Immerglck's convivial mandolin along with Hiatt's own harmonica on the Band-inflected "You Must Go" (with backing vocals by Jayhawks principals Gary Louris and Mark Olson); a little electric noodling on the Ex-Laxic "Wrote It Down and Burned It"; and eerie steel guitar, Platters-like "she-bop-she-bops," and even the sound of some rattling trains on "Mile High," which closes out the album as an unlisted track. "There's really no such thing as a hidden track," Hiatt contends. "It's just a matter of stuffing one down the road a bit. Like a little bonus for the listener that goes searching."

After all this time, Hiatt's happy to be where he is these days, and likens the whole songwriting shebang to taking a picture. "There's therapy in that," he notes. "It alleviates a lot of my insanity. I love it as a form of expression. And I wouldn't know what to do if I couldn't write songs so I can take a picture of them. To look at them and warp them -- that's how I think of it. If I couldn't do that, let's just say I'd be severely bummed.

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