Forty years into his recording career, John Hiatt has chosen to title his 22nd studio album, Terms of My Surrender. That’s an essence, perhaps the essence, of the 11 songs here, the 11 stories they tell and, together perhaps, one story. Always a keen observer of life’s flings and foibles alike, usually mixed well together, Hiatt’s insights and skills at sharing them have only sharpened over the year.
With his longtime guitarist Doug Lancio taking the producer reins, Hiatt set out to bring the songs’ character (and characters) into intimate focus. There’s a close-up, patina-festooned bluesy quality tying the tales together. But it’s blues in the knotty backwoods sense, as if sprung from the Delta loam. It’s completely a band effort, his current group, which he calls simply the Combo, a tight-yet-loose unit from years together on the road — Lancio on guitars, banjo and mandolin, Nathan Gehri on bass, Kenneth Blevins on drums, with keyboards from John Coleman on some of the tracks. But it all flows from the leader. He’s a self-aware chronicler of both his own and others’ stumbles and epiphanies, the tales richer with each step forward.
And it’s all steps forward, even if on Terms of My Surrender there are some looks back in the process.