“You know how writing goes for me,” John Hiatt says, offering a glimpse into his creative process. “I get a couple of lines going, and then I just tag along as the songs start to reveal themselves. You’ve just gotta jump inside and take the ride.”
Hiatt has been on that ride—as have we all, tagging along right beside him—for more than four decades now. In fact, since the release of his 1974 debut, Hangin’ Around the Observatory, rarely has more than a year or two passed without a new Hiatt collection hitting the shelves. But after wrapping up a year of touring in support of 2014’s Terms of My Surrender—the singer-songwriter’s 22nd studio effort overall—he found himself, for the first time in a long time, unsure of what would come next.
During this period of transition Hiatt did manage to compose a new song—a dusty, road-worn meditation titled “Robber’s Highway.” But the lyrics he penned (“I had words, chords and strings / now I don’t have any of these things”) sounded almost ominously prophetic. “I was just thinking in terms of somebody who’s out there hammerin’ away with his music, wondering what it’s all coming to,” Hiatt explains. “And maybe the songs just aren’t there anymore...”
Fast-forward a few years, however, and it’s clear that, for Hiatt at least, the songs are still very much there. And The Eclipse Sessions, his newest collection, offers up his strongest set of ‘em in years. Long celebrated as a skilled storyteller and keen observer of life’s twists and turns, Hiatt can get at the heart of a knotty emotion or a moment in time with just a sharp, incisive lyric or witty turn of phrase. And the 11 tracks presented here, from the breezy opener “Cry to Me,” to the stark “Nothing in My Heart,” the lost- love lamentation “Aces Up Your Sleeve” to the rollicking “Poor Imitation of God,” demonstrate that the singer-songwriter, now 66, is only getting better with age, his guitar playing more rugged and rootsy, his words wiser and more wry.
Colin Elmore grew up in a simple house on Sassafras Street, in Willow Springs, Mo. (pop. 2,221), listening to the occasional train whistle and the mating chatter of eager field crickets from his back porch on summer nights.
And like the persistent chirpers, Elmore’s connection to the Ozarks is impossible to ignore.
His grandfather’s great-grandfather was one of the first settlers in south-central Missouri and the Ozarks remained home for every generation after. Willow Springs has all the trappings of small towns everywhere: a football field, a city pool, and a Sonic Drive In with a horseshoe drive – one side reserved for parents, the other for local high school kids in search of independence and a box of chicken strips.
Elmore picked up the guitar in middle school. He was between calluses and learning how to make a minor chord, when his dad intervened. Elmore was riding shotgun in his father’s Crown Vic patrol car when his father opened a jewel case and introduced him to what Elmore calls the “denim-clad storytellers” of the ‘70s: James Taylor, Jim Croce, and Gordon Lightfoot.
Surrounded by an atmosphere rich in the musical heritage and storytelling tradition of the Ozark Hills, Elmore began writing original songs at 16, with relevant and deeply personal lyrics usually attributed to more seasoned writers.
Said John Dillon of the Ozark Mountain Daredevils, “Colin Elmore is a songwriter who has an uncanny ability to tap the fuel of all good poetry: love, life, and the land. His lyrics are full of mystery and beauty, and his studied attention to melody and metaphor make his songs resonate with truth as deep as the roots of some old Missouri oak.”
Elmore tried community college, but quickly dropped out (he flunked online physical education). After a series of jobs (waiter, dockhand, bank teller, and window washer) he eventually moved into software development. In the freefall after the accidental death of his 44-year-old uncle, Elmore moved to Los Angeles.
It was a surreal year including getting dating advice from Tony Hawk in a bathroom line at Marilyn Monroe’s former residence, putting on an illegal rooftop concert, and walking 10 miles home in the middle of the night after the trains stopped running.
With lessons learned and an uncertain future ahead, Elmore migrated east in a Chevy Suburban he equates to a rolling ash tray/trash can. His first night in Nashville was spent on a porch drinking and singing songs with people who became family and working as a barista to pay the bills after funding for his software project dried up.
Elmore spent time playing shows, writing songs, and fortifying his sound, and eventually caught the attention of Jim Catino, the Executive Vice President of A&R for Sony Music Nashville, who signed him to a developmental deal. Elmore also signed with WME and inked a publishing deal with Wrensong/Reynsong Entertainment.
“I’ve always liked country music, but had no real intentions of climbing that ladder,” Elmore said. “Either way, he saw something in me. I guess behind the ratty clothes, the cigarettes, and occasional appetite for self-destruction, he thought I might have a story to tell. I guess I’ve got a few.”
Elmore immersed himself in the fertile singer/songwriter scene where his creativity, larger-than-life personality, and skill as a musician garnered attention and frequent collaborations including producer/writer Marshall Altman (Natasha Bedingfield, Walker Hayes, Frankie Ballard, Eric Paslay, Matt Nathanson, Marc Broussard, and Will Hoge), who is producing the project.
“Who knows what’s going to happen, but dammit if I haven’t enjoyed the process,” said Elmore with trademark candor. “My life is good, my songs are what I want them to be, and I’m just getting started.”
Colin Elmore is currently working on new music fusing country, soul, southern and indie rock with his unique style of Ozark-inspired storytelling. For information about Colin Elmore visit www.ColinElmoreMusic.com.