Bring The Family: redux/revisited
I like John Hiatt - he's a guy you can pretty much always rely on. There'll always be a good song - probably half a dozen. And somewhere in there, on each album (and he's done more than 20) there'll be a truly great song. Again, maybe more. He's never really been a blues artist but always had an element of that. Ditto: country and roots-rock. He's a troubadour-styled singer/songwriter. A great musician. That voice. And his lyrics. He gets it right with funny lines, cheeky asides and he can do the heartfelt thing - and it never seems cheesy or trite. Have A Little Faith In Me - well, that's the sort of song you could retire after. I mean, you write something like that you can rest easy. Your job is done.
But Hiatt didn't ever rest after that. He just went on. And on. And though I haven't cared about every album he's released - at least not all the way through and I still have some catching up to do across the last decade actually - I do think his latest album is particularly good. And I do think he's (still) sadly underrated as far as songwriters go, or underappreciated. There are people that know. Sure. But you live in hope that someone like Hiatt is going to one day hit the big payday. Not just money-wise, but spiritually, emotionally - it's that Rodney Dangerfield thing. It seems he can't get no respect.
Good as the Hiatt albums across the late 1980s and early 1990s are - and then again in the mid/late-90s (to some degree) I just love Bring The Family. That's the album that has Have A Little Faith. That's the album that he recorded in just a handful of days. His eighth. He was newly sober but the niggle that he had burned too many bridges in the music industry had him figuring he was done. He just happened to have written his best batch of songs. That's the album that lit a fire; that got him going again.
Ten tracks on Bring The Family - not a single dud. It plays out as if a "Greatest Hits" album. The band: Hiatt (vocals/piano/guitar), Ry Cooder (guitar), Nick Lowe (bass), Jim Keltner (drums). What a line-up. They'd reform and formalise the band-notion, calling themselves Little Village. The Little Village album, just the one, self-titled, from 1992 is worth having - if you can find it. But Bring The Family - that's the better set of songs.
There's one problem with Bring The Family though - it suffers for its eighties sound. I love the music of the 1980s. But some albums recorded in that decade just didn't get the sound they deserved. Bring The Family is one.
People often think that when an artist re-records their songs - strips them back perhaps, records acoustic versions of tunes that were once dressed up electric - it's a cop out, a sign that there are no new ideas.
But sometimes it can work.
And I had this conversation the other day - with another Hiatt fan. They're out there. It's always nice to find them. We got to chatting and decided that if Hiatt ever wanted to re-record Bring The Family - revisit that entire batch of songs, lay them down again, all new versions, same order and - crucially - that same wonderful band, well, it could just be some (newly) bottled lightning. It had the chance, easily I feel, of being better the second time around.
It's something I'm going to think about for a bit - now and then. It'll keep me happy, just the thought that it could happen. Hypothetically. Those great musicians are all still alive and working, still making great music. They could even go under the Little Village name to re-record/re-release Bring The Family. Then only the true fans would know, it wouldn't look like Hiatt had run out of ideas. At nearly an album a year for most of the last two decades he clearly hasn't of course. But, anyway...
That's my fantasy re-record project. Bring The Family is still an album I listen to. But a better version of it could exist. That's my belief.
What I wondered was whether you had a similar thought about a favourite album. Is there a favourite from the 1980s that you think suffered due to the wrong production approach? Is there a cruddy-sounding set of garage rock classics from the 50s or 60s or - for that matter - from the 90s or 00s that you think would sound even better if it was treated just right?
That's today's topic. I'm keen to know what your example of an album that deserves a second chance to shine might be. An album that could be improved if the original artist got the band back together and hit at those same songs in a new way today.
And any other Bring The Family fans out there? Any John Hiatt fans? Little Village fans? Do check out Hiatt's latest, Terms of My Surrender.
Postscript: Very sad to hear that Johnny Winter has died. I wrote a wee tribute piece. His playing was fierce. He made a couple of really special records. And probably a few more than that even. But his work with Muddy Waters makes him a saint.
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