The Unknown Veteran: John Hiatt’s Terms of My Surrender

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It’s hard to believe that someone with such a great catalogue of tunes as Hiatt has can just about outdo them all with a new release, but 2014’s Terms of My Surrender is a superb new offering by one of the best songwriters in the business. Not a bad accomplishment for a singer-songwriter who has released twenty-six albums since his debut in 1974.

What Are Terms of His Surrender?

The title song is one of the best.  It’s the lyrics, as usual, that make Hiatt so great—add his musicianship and voice and you’ve got one of the most entertaining gentlemen ever to hold a guitar. “Terms of My Surrender” is a, mostly, acoustic-blues love song that sounds like it’s from the 30s—in a great way.  With simile’s comparing a heavy heart to a “stack of bibles” and love being wrong to the point that it’s like a “fat man in a thong,” you’ve got a perfect example of that sense of humour and concreteness that is Hiatt. The terms of his surrender? Unconditional, as it turns out. It’s a great love song.

The Unknown Veteran

A lot of Terms of My Surrender is serious, very bluesy as well. The first two songs (“Long Time Comin’” and “Face of God”), in fact, are up there with the most serious of his catalogue, particularly “Face of God.”  Lyrics such as “They say God is a devil/Until you look him in the eye” is not exactly light material, though it’s clearly an amazing Hiatt tune. There’s also one of the most pointed critiques of the unfortunate aspects of the less rigorous aspects of justice in the current paradigm. If you want something more concrete, check out “Wind Don’t Have to Hurry.”

Then there’s one of the most compelling Hiatt short stories of his career, “Nobody Knew His Name,” a play on the Unknown-Soldier theme in the form of the “Unknown Veteran.” Songs like this one put Hiatt at the top of the list of current songwriters. Terms of My Surrender  is not all about suffering though...well, at least not all a serious treatment of suffering.

Old People Are Pushy

 “Old People,” for instance, is pretty funny and a guilty pleasure for those of us over fifty, the ornery bunch we are. It reminds me of Randy Newman’s “Short People” from 1977, not musically, but in the sense that it’s going hip-deep into controversial territory. Still, as one of those old people, I find it funny and feel guilt free humming along as I drive or belly-up to the buffet.

The thing about Hiatt is that if you choose “Play All” on your iPod you will be rewarded again and again by songs you may have forgotten or underappreciated. For now, though, (and for the last couple of months) when I am in the mood for concrete tunes about the human condition, I choose Terms of My Surrender.  It may be a while before I listen to Hiatt’s back catalogue,  Terms of My Surrender is that good.

http://www.johnhiatt.com

AH

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