John Hiatt – Bring The Family (1987): Review

Produced by John Chelew
Label – A&M

John Hiatt’s career had been a typical story of many a washed out rocker. The Indianapolis Alt/Country artist had originally recorded a debut as far back as 1974, had released 7 original albums during the period, and had been kicked off 3 major American Record labels (Epic, MCA, and Geffen) due to poor sales returns, even though much of the work had received critical acclaim. Drugs and drink had taken their toll on the artist and as a final act of desperate resilience, he cleaned and sobered himself up and travelled to the U.K. for one final attempt to resurrect his career. Bravely A&M records signed him and with a surprising amount of empathy and patience asked which musicians Hiatt would wish to record with. He asked for the services of guitarist Ry Cooder, bassist Nick Lowe, and drummer Jim Keltner. Amazingly they agreed, and so the four set up in Los Angeles for the recording of “Bring The Family”. Hiatt already had the songs in demo format, which meant that the album could be recorded in an unbelievable 4 days.

Most regard “Bring The Family” as the pinnacle of his career. Firstly the band contribution helps realise the songs perfectly, particularly Cooder’s input, which is understated but technically outstanding, particularly on acoustic guitar. The songs are strong, drawing in the experiences of the years of excess and turmoil, of the loves he’d won and lost through his own mistakes. The major highlights are the Country ballads which are almost religiously confessional in their honesty, deliberately slowed down to emphasise the trauma on one hand, and the commitment to fight the demons and come out on top on the other. His soaring vocal performance reaches out to his ever loving partner on the best song from the album “Have A Little Faith In Me”, with the line “You see time, time is our friend,’cause for us there is no end, and all you gotta do is have a little faith in me” imploring her that he’s changed for good. “Lipstick Sunset”, “Tip Of My Tongue”, and “Learning How To Love” all show a man who has travelled to the edge of the abyss, and is slowly and responsibly learning how to love and respect his love, family and most importantly himself.

Dry wit, some tenderness and brutal honesty make “Bring The Family” something to be grateful for, by both fan and the re-born artist who produced it.

8/10

Track Listing
A1 Memphis in the Meantime 4:00
A2 Alone in the Dark 4:46
A3 Thing Called Love 4:13
A4 Lipstick Sunset 4:12
A5 Have a Little Faith in Me 4:03
B1 Thank You Girl 4:11
B2 Tip of My Tongue 5:53
B3 Your Dad Did 4:03
B4 Stood Up 5:57
B5 Learning How to Love You 4:08

Have A Little Faith In Me

Thank You Girl

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