John Hiatt, long reliable as a singer, songwriter and sobriety checkpoint, returns in good voice and full of passionate, witty insights, but there isn’t a drop in sight.
“Perfectly Good Guitar,” his A&M Records album due Sept. 7, opens in a hail of anguished yowls and screaming guitars, and Hiatt is only one rhyme into “Something Wild” when he offers up the word “corpuscles.” But the context isn’t blood-alcohol content.
There’s an aside about “mixing up drinks with mixed feelings” and a character who “Saturday night comes home stinkin,’ ” but otherwise Hiatt seems to be keeping the cork on for this one. “Stinkin’ ” winds up rhyming with, of all things, “thinkin.’ ”
Indeed, “Perfectly Good Guitar” is Hiatt with a twist.
“It’s John Hiatt Undrugged,” he said with a laugh.
There’s another twist, because while he has likened the reward of making this album to his acclaimed “Bring the Family”– recorded with Little Village mates and rock graybeards Nick Lowe, Jim Keltner and Ry Cooder — this time the 40 -year-old Hiatt has brought the young’uns: producer Matt Wallace (Faith No More) , guitarist Michael Ward (School of Fish), drummer Brian McLeod (Wire Train) and bassist John Pierce.
Hiatt sees a natural order to the generational mix and says it was inspired by his 15-year-old stepson and his progressive interest in old rock, heavy metal and, of late, alternative.
“The student becomes the teacher,” Hiatt said. “That’s the way it’s supposed to work. Besides, I’m still kinda restless, irritable and discontented. Nick Lowe and I joke that it’s our goal to reach a style of playing we call rocking hard/hardly rocking. That’s what I’m shooting for. Like Muddy Waters. That’s rocking hard/hardly rocking.”
Hiatt says his songs are split between autobiography and fiction. He swears that’s the fictional half shooting the countenance off a Barbie doll in “The Wreck of the Barbie Ferrari.””But I’ve taken out a Ken doll or two,” he said. “And I don’t care much for Skipper, either.”
Rhino’s “Love Gets Strange,” a collection of 18 cover versions of Hiatt songs , also is out now.