(Mobile Fidelity UDCD 741)
John Hiatt is the Billy Bob Thornton of country music: once you find out who he is you suddenly realize he’s been in every production made in the last twenty years. Just about every country artist worth his salt has covered a Hiatt tune, and Slow Turning is a good hint why. Each song has a sweet honesty at it’s heart, urging you to listen on even when the tune feels a little too familiar.
Produced by one of rock ‘n roll’s all-time great engineers Glyn Johns, this MoFi edition of Slow Turning sounds absolutely fantastic. Recorded in 1988, the year in which Garth Brooks’ debut album unofficially ushered in the “new-country” era, Slow Turning avoids the trappings of digital recording that so many country artists were experimenting with and sucked the life out of their music. As Hiatt explains in the updated liner-notes, if he was tapping his foot on the wood studio floor, Johns would run it through the tape relay, the same trick done for Willie Dixon’s recording of “Walking Blues.” It’s the small touches that bring a song to life, and you need the right man behind the boards to make the magic.
With the strong presence of a Hammond organ and slide guitar, this music reminds me of Randy Newman’s early-seventies effort 12 Songs, a terrific album by another fine songwriter (before he went brain-dead and decided to dedicate his life to scoring Disney movies). Like 12 Songs, Hiatt’s music tickles off his fingertips so naturally that the words feel almost obvious–not in the sense that they follow a formula but rather in the same manner you know that plucking one grey hair brings two back, and pants with a 34 waist should always have a 32 leg. I don’t know why the world works that way, it just does. Every song on Slow Turning works, and it will likely remain the peak of Hiatt’s career.
Certainly this is a modest triumph, but a triumph just the same. Everything from the Anton Corbijn liner-note photographs to a lyric like “We don’t have to feel like dirt anymore / Though love’s not earned / Baby, it’s our turn” fits like a glove. On the title track Hiatt even has the good sense to crack a joke at the thought of his somewhat-less-notable band working with the same Glyn Johns that recorded The Stones’ Beggars Banquet: “I’m yelling at the kids in the back seat / ‘Cause they’re bangin’ like Charlie Watts.”
This is a charming album, plain and simple. The band is so relaxed you’ll want to pour some Jack Daniels in your lemonade and join the party. Kudos to the powers that be for reviving an album that went away too quietly the first time ’round.