Teaming veteran singer/composer John Hiatt with resophonic master Jerry Douglas and his band could have yielded yet another predictable Americana spin on modern bluegrass. Luckily, that didn’t happen. With Douglas producing, the collaboration is memorable and moving. A powerful sense of history also permeates the entire album, recorded live at Nashville’s Historic RCA Studio B, where Chet Atkins reigned supreme.
The arrangements – and the band’s use of space – enhance the songs and Hiatt’s weathered, yet nimble voice. Douglas, guitarist Nathan Seal, and upright bassist Daniel Kimbro add a powerful rhythmic pulse to the rockabilly-inspired “Long Black Electric Cadillac” and “Keen Rambler.” Concise, limber fills from Douglas and Seal’s relentless amplified chugging enrich the swampy “Mississippi Phone Booth.” On the upbeat “All the Lilacs in Ohio,” Seal, Douglas, and fiddler Christian Sedelmyer become vibrant foils for Hiatt’s amiable vocal.
Their sense of restraint particularly enhances the somber ballad “Light of the Burning Sun,” based on an actual Hiatt family tragedy. Sedelmyer and Kimbro create a gorgeous string backing that frames the lament “Buddy Boy,” with Douglas adding a moving break. His astringent resophonic fills invigorate “Sweet Dream,” just as Hiatt’s and Seal’s fingerpicking enhances the reflective “Changes in My Mind.”
This article originally appeared in VG’s August 2021 issue. All copyrights are by the author and Vintage Guitar magazine. Unauthorized replication or use is strictly prohibited.