John Hiatt: Bring the Family

ON THIS DATE (25 YEARS AGO)
May 29, 1987 – John Hiatt: Bring the Family is released.
# ALL THINGS MUSIC PLUS+ 5/5
# Allmusic 4.5/5 stars
Bring the Family is John Hiatt’s eighth album, released on this date in May 1987. It was his first album to chart on the Billboard 200, and featured his first single entry on the mainstream rock chart with “Thank You Girl”.
It features Ry Cooder on guitar, Nick Lowe on bass guitar and Jim Keltner on drums. The four would later reform as Little Village and release an album in the 1990s. “Thing Called Love” later became a hit for Bonnie Raitt, and “Have A Little Faith In Me” is among Hiatt’s most popular songs, although it wasn’t released as a single in America.
The album was recorded in four days after McCabe’s Guitar Shop booker John Chelew convinced Hiatt that these were some of his best songs. Hiatt was recently sober but had burned so many bridges in the music industry he did not think he had a chance of continuing. He had been dropped by his label and “wondered if I was worth a damn.” Hiatt had played some solo acoustic shows at McCabe’s in January 1987 just prior to recording where he debuted songs such as “Lipstick Sunset,” “Your Dad Did” and “Memphis in the Meantime.”
Demon Records in England still loved his work and had pledged about $30,000 if he wanted to record (“Demon Records said I could fart in a bathtub and they’d put it out,” Hiatt says). A&M Records in the U.S. eventually picked up the finished disc. Recording was done in Studio 2 of Ocean Way Studios, Los Angeles. These songs were all that were recorded – there were no leftovers or outtakes and Hiatt had to complete a couple of songs in the studio. “I remember Ry walking out the door on the fourth day and me coming after him and going: ‘Ry, I’ve got one more song. Could you stay?’ Literally, we’d done nine and I needed one more,” Hiatt has said. Budgets were so tight that Hiatt and Lowe shared a Holiday Inn room in the San Fernando Valley during the recording sessions. Lowe, an old friend of Hiatt’s, took no payment for his contribution. Chelew turned out to be correct. “Bring the Family” is one of the cornerstones of Hiatt’s career, and not a show goes by without a generous helping of its songs.
REVIEW
by Mark Deming, allmusic
In 1987, John Hiatt, clean and sober and looking for an American record deal, was asked by an A&R man at a British label to name his dream band. After a little thought, Hiatt replied that if he had his druthers, he’d cut a record with Ry Cooder on guitar, Nick Lowe on bass, and Jim Keltner on drums. To Hiatt’s surprise, he discovered all three were willing to work on his next album; Hiatt and his dream band went into an L.A. studio and knocked off Bring the Family in a mere four days, and the result was the best album of Hiatt’s career. The musicians certainly make a difference here, generating a lean, smoky groove that’s soulful and satisfying (Ry Cooder’s guitar work is especially impressive, leaving no doubt of his singular gifts without ever overstepping its boundaries), but the real triumph here is Hiatt’s songwriting. Bring the Family was recorded after a period of great personal turmoil for him, and for the most part the archly witty phrasemaker of his earlier albums was replaced by an wiser and more cautious writer who had a great deal to say about where life and love can take you. Hiatt had never written anything as nakedly confessional as “Tip of My Tongue” or “Learning How to Love You” before, and even straight-ahead R&B-style rockers like “Memphis in the Meantime” and “Thing Called Love” possessed a weight and resonance he never managed before. But Bring the Family isn’t an album about tragedy, it’s about responsibility and belatedly growing up, and it’s appropriate that it was a band of seasoned veterans with their own stories to tell about life who helped Hiatt bring it across; it’s a rich and satisfying slice of grown-up rock & roll.
TRACKS:
All tracks written by John Hiatt
“Memphis In The Meantime”
“Alone In The Dark”
“Thing Called Love”
“Lipstick Sunset”
“Have a Little Faith in Me”
“Thank You Girl”
“Tip Of My Tongue”
“Your Dad Did”
“Stood Up”
“Learning How To Love You”

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Filed under 1987, Bring the Family, Jim Keltner, John Hiatt, Nick Lowe, Ry Cooder

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