While there’s certainly no doubt that John Hiatt is a true living legend of songwriting, he blazed through his Friday night (Sept. 14) Americana Music Festival showcase slot at Cannery Ballroom like he was trying to make sure there weren’t any lingering questions in anyone’s mind. With his million-watt smile, Hiatt treated the crowd to a handful of new songs from his upcoming Mystic Pinball album and a bunch of tried-and-true favorites.
Being that this was an Americana show, Hiatt made sure to include a few acoustic numbers like one of his new songs, “Blues Can’t Even Find Me,” and even did a pair of songs featuring a mandolin (“Crossing Muddy Waters” and the reggae-tinged “Cry Love”).
However, the majority of the set was given over to some bombastic bluesy roots rock songs like “Master of Disaster,” “Memphis in the Meantime,” “Real Fine Love” and “Thing Called Love,” which he dedicated to Bonnie Raitt in honor of her receiving the lifetime achievement award for performance at the Americana Music Association Honors and Awards show.
On a purely personal note, I was super-excited that he played my favorite song of his, “Have a Little Faith in Me,” from his Bring the Family album. For me, it was certainly one of the highlights of the entire festival.
Texas native (and now Nashville transplant) Robert Ellis played before Hiatt and brought along his gritty, Outlaw country vibe and some brand new songs with him. In fact, “Houston” was being played live for the very first time. Ellis was backed by a powerful band that included bass, drums, pedal steel and electric guitar. He played an acoustic and an electric as well. He did an absolutely fantastic cover of Rosanne Cash’s “Seven Year Ache,” but the highlight of the set was the jaw-dropping closing number that ebbed and flowed between intentional cacophony and church revival music.
Amanda Shires bravely started her set with an a cappella version of “Kudzu,” and she immediately had the audience eating out of her hand. For the rest of her set, she either played her homemade electric ukulele or wowed everyone with her superb fiddle work. Shire’s voice and melancholy songwriting style bring to mind a mix of Patsy Cline and Cold Roses-era Ryan Adams, which is perfectly fine for me since they are two of my favorite artists. I have a bit of a soft spot for old-timey murder ballads, so I loved her solo take on the gorgeously haunting “I Kept Watch Like Doves.” Her cover of Leonard Cohen’s “I’m Your Man” was pretty spectacular, as well. She brought out her fiancé, alt-country mainstay Jason Isbell, to play electric guitar on a few songs, playfully introducing him as “Jason Shires.”
Shelly Colvin started off the night, and I thoroughly enjoyed the high lonesome tone of her vocals and her pensive songwriting. Her debut album, Up the Hickory Down the Pine, is set to be released next month, and she played a bunch of happily unhappy songs from it. She had a full band behind her for the majority of her set and was then joined by an incredible cast of friends on a song or two that included Ross Holmes from Mumford & Sons on fiddle and Matraca Berg and Courtney Jaye on background vocals. While Colvin’s band and guests really fleshed out her songs well, her closing solo version of “The Staying Kind” really showcased the special nature of her voice and songwriting.