Forty years into his recording career, John Hiatt has chosen to title his 22nd studio album, Terms of My Surrender. Surrender? Is that as in Cheap Trick? Or Appomattox? Hiatt laughs, tentatively, at the choice.
“It’s my Appomattox,” he says, wryly. “Really I don’t know where it came from, that idea of trying to arrange the terms of my surrender. I don’t get to do that. It’s a labor in vain in that respect, if you think you can negotiate that with anyone, or anything. In reference to the title song, it’s in terms of love. You’ve got to give it up. The song says, ‘I can’t negotiate the terms.’”
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.
Along the way his songs have attracted many other singers, through whom some have gained a wider world of fans via other artists’ versions — Rosanne Cash’s “Pink Bedroom” and most famously Bonnie Raitt’s hit version of “Thing Called Love.” And in recent years he’s done series of shows with Lyle Lovett, “our little Smothers Brothers comedy show,” that’s brought out other spins on his art, though elements already familiar to those who’ve been there all along. Alternately bemused and profound, 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.
“This record kind of hooked back up with the John the Troubadour Folk Singer Blues Guy,” he says. “I hadn’t really been doing that for a while. That feels good. Feels like a kid. And anything you can do to feel like a kid when you’re my age, you want to do it. It’s a good thing.”