Sometime Other Than Now

Thirty years on, Slow Turning steers John Hiatt towards a higher plateau

Slow Turning

John Hiatt already had eight previous albums to his credit and a solid reputation as a singer/songwriter by the time Slow Turning dutifully appeared on August 30, 1988.

His preceding album, Bring the Family, released two years earlier, had effectively elevated to the upper echelon of Nashville’s finest provocateurs. At very least, it ensured him a respectable reputation that he could build on as he continued to procure a signature sardonic style. Other artists that were sharing a similar sensibility — Elvis Costello, Nick Lowe, Richard Thompson and Graham Parker, among them — were already attracting notice in mainstream circles, an indication that it was an apt time for Hiatt to begin grabbing attention on his own.

Still, for all his wry melodies and subtle suggestion, Hiatt had yet to land a major hit. All that changed when the title track began making its initial inroads on the charts. Bearing a lyric that effectively reflected his Everyman sensibilities (“I’m yelling at the kids in the back, ’cause they’re banging like Charlie Watts”), the song endeared him to every would-be road warrior who was relegated to the status of a hapless commuter as opposed to the relentless would-be easy rider. A resolute tale that combs both reality and resolve in a quest to scope out new horizons, it attained further distinction when it was included in the soundtrack for the film “The Rookie,” a good choice considering its inherent cinematic suggestion. It also become a country hit for Suzy Boguss a few years later.

Several of the album’s other entries also fared well over time. Buddy Guy covered “Feels Like Rain, which, like “Slow Turning,” garnered a film placement when it was chosen for the score of “Raising Helen” which starred Kate Hudson. Likewise, “Icy Blue Heart” gained the distinction of being tapped by Emmylou Harris for her album Bluebird, released two years later.

Even without the additional attention, Slow Turning succeeded on its own courtesy of a set of songs that rank among the best in Hiatt’s catalog. The spunky “Tennessee Plates” is a catchy rocker which continues to express Hiatt’s affection for rambling road songs. “Trudy and Dave” are more Bonnie and Clyde than Jack and Diane, but the heartland heroics suggest they shared a common cause. So too, the pliable ache of “Feels Like Rain” finds Hiatt expressing emotion with a weariness that’s comforting and compelling all at the same time.

Slow Turning affirms the fact that Hiatt was quickly approaching the peak of his prowess. His gritty southern twang bore an authenticity that managed to avoid the cliches that often accompany the typical down home drawl. His singular perspective was seemingly borne from a rural expanse of the American heartland, but it possessed a knowing attitude informed by wit, charm and a steady, stoic stance. It remains one of the most influential and insightful albums of Hiatt’s prodigious career, if for no other reason than the fact that it was so solidly grounded in everyday intent. At very least, Slow Turning marked a fateful turn in Hiatt’s career, one that steered him towards a place of prominence from which there was no turning back.

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Lee Zimmerman

Lee Zimmerman is a writer and columnist based in beautiful Maryville Tennessee. Over the past 20 years, his work has appeared in dozens of leading music publications. He is also the author of Americana Music: Voice, Visionaries, and Pioneers of an Honest Sound, which will be published by Texas A&M University Press early next year.

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