John Hiatt sounds like he understands that famous line from the Bob Dylan song “My Back Pages:” “Ah, but I was so much older then, I’m younger than that now.”
Hiatt’s getting older — he turns 61 Aug. 20 — but he feels like he’s been turning back the clock as a songwriter.
“My motto is 60 is the new 12,” Hiatt quipped.
“I’ve been sort of re-energized, I guess, a little bit.
“I don’t know why, but I feel kind of re-connected to when I was younger, before I even got to Nashville, when I was playing pretty much straight up rock and roll, covering the Rolling Stones and the Who and that era, …before I got more into roots stuff when I was getting into my 20s and so on and so forth. It’s kind of a teen-age vibe to it, although I’m way far from a teenager.”
That renewed passion is showing up with Hiatt’s output. His 21st album, “Mystic Pinball,” arrived in September and marked Hiatt’s fourth CD in four years. And he is already talking about getting another CD in the pipeline.
“I’ve got some stuff,” Hiatt said. “We had about five (songs) left over from this record, and I’m writing some new stuff.… I feel like I’m doing good work. As long as I feel that way, I’m going to keep putting them out.”
Fans will have no problem with that, considering Hiatt’s track record.
He emerged in 1974 with the album “Hangin’ Around The Observatory,” and early in his career pursued a rocking pop sound that earned him comparisons to the likes of Elvis Costello.
Drug and alcohol problems did Hiatt no favors in his first decade of recording. But he tackled his addictions, and returned sober in 1987 with a CD that Rolling Stone called one of the finest albums of that decade, “Bring The Family.” The album honed in on a rootsy rocking sound and included “Thing Called Love,” which Bonnie Raitt turned into a hit years later.
Next came another terrific album, “Slow Turning,” which cemented Hiatt’s place in the top ranks of songwriters. He’s been one of the music’s most consistent artists since, turning out an unbroken string of albums that range from good to superlative.
“Mystic Pinball” could join standouts like “Bring The Family,” and his other best CDs.
It is one of Hiatt’s most rocking albums: “We’re Alright Now,” is a chugging song that sets a good-natured lyrical tone. Other highlights are “Bite Marks,” a bluesy track that will please fans of earlier Hiatt gems like “Paper Thin” and “Thing Called Love.” “My Business” goes for a swampier vibe, while “One Of Them Damn Days” has a sassy strut. Add in a couple of fine, easy-going tunes and a stinging ballad (“I Just Don’t Know What To Say”) makes for a well-rounded album.
“The last record was kind of, it had sort of a heavier vibe to it, so I kind of wanted to just lighten up a bit and play some rock and roll and have some fun (on “Mystic Pinball”),” Hiatt said.
He made it with his touring band, which he calls his Combo – guitarist Doug Lancio, drummer Kenneth Blevins and bassist Patrick O’Hearn. Nathan Gehri however is playing bass on the tour. As usual, Hiatt tries to cover music from across his career, which after 21 albums presents challenges.
“We get together before a tour and I try and integrate some new stuff every year and try to get it out there, and keep in mind stuff that people have asked for on the previous tour …and try to work those up,” Hiatt said.
“We try to keep playing new stuff and keep it fresh, and also play the stuff that people kind of want to hear every show.”
John Hiatt & The Combo
Doors open 7:30 p.m., concert 8:30 p.m., August 23. $32.50 in advance, $35 day of show.
Variety Playhouse, 1099 Euclid Ave NE, Atlanta. 404-524-7354, http://www.variety-playhouse.com.