A LOT HAS CHANGED since John Hiatt recorded The Eclipse Sessions in 2018, and his latest release, Leftover Feelings (New West), is all the more significant for a couple of reasons: It was made during the 2020 pandemic, and it was recorded at Nashville’s legendary RCA Studio B, during a time when tourists had virtually stopped visiting the historic site. As Hiatt explains, “If the pandemic had any plusses, it was that we were able to get in there and record during the day. Normally you can only record at night at Studio B, and you have to break your gear down after each session. We got in there last October and we settled on four days. Every day we got tested, and when we were in the control room we wore masks and stayed apart and all that.”
It was worth the precautions to bring such a confluence of talent to bear on the project. Between the richness of Hiatt’s songs and the awesome musicianship of Jerry Douglas’s band — which includes Mike Seal on acoustic and electric guitars, Daniel Kimbro on bass, and Christian Sedelmyer on fiddle— Leftover Feelings is a superb, live-in the-studio album that has the atmosphere of a very special room and the sense of togetherness that can only happen when players are in it as one. However, it wasn’t a given that the project would actually take flight. “I think like everybody else I was initially just staying home, and I wasn’t terribly creative at all,” Hiatt says. “I was just fumbling around in the dark, doing some reading, but not really writing much.
“But after a while, I started writing some songs and making demos in my little home studio and got interested in that. Things that threaten life can also be life-enhancing if you can turn them into something positive. To be able to make music during this time was just a miracle, and then to get together with Jerry and the guys and do the recording — we were just grinning ear to ear to be able to make music again after having not done it for a year.”
The album rolls out of the gate with “Long Black Electric Cadillac,” Hiatt’s whimsical nod to a “green” tail fin– festooned luxury ride. “I hope there will be a 1,000-mile battery in a long black electric Cadillac,” he says. “I’ll be first in line! It was fun to write that song and to start with something that had some levity. Then we head down to Mississippi [“Mississippi Phone Booth”] with another traveling song about a trip that a guy makes out of his personal hell, and he’s making the phone call home, saying, ‘Please don’t hang up on me this time!’”
Leftover Feelings is all about the light and dark contrasts in Hiatt’s stories, and so it follows that tracks like “Buddy Boy” and “Keen Rambler” offer respite to the album’s heavier songs, like “Light of the Burning Sun,” where he reveals the emotional weight of his brother’s suicide. “He was 21 and I was about 11,” Hiatt explains. “There were seven of us, and he was the oldest. So it’s the story of what happened and how it impacted the family, as suicide does. I was finally able to write a song about it.
“I write songs as kind of a way to get my bearings at a certain point in my life, or maybe figure out things by telling stories. I figured it was bound to come up, and it was good to write about it. I was kind of reluctant to put it on the record, to be honest, because I thought it was too dark. But Jerry said, ‘Man, people have been through this and have lost loved ones this way, and they need to hear it.’”
How was the decision made to record the album at RCA Studio B?
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