I've come to the conclusion that if you're a John Hiatt fan, you have a John Hiatt story.
With John Hiatt's music, you don't just listen to it. You surrender to it. You immerse yourself in the stories he tells and the worlds that he creates. You leave a John Hiatt release different from how you arrived. There's a reason that Hiatt is considered a songwriter's songwriter. While his Americana twang may have never quite made Hiatt a household name, among singers and songwriters you can say the name John Hiatt and people just smile.
They know. He's one of the best.
My John Hiatt story began when I was in my early 20's. I'd been living in a downward spiral for a few years and in the year leading up to this very night I'd started dealing with childhood trauma, lost my wife and newborn, lost my feet due to complications from spina bifida, and eventually my home.
It felt like I'd lost everything. I sat in my bathroom with a loaded gun to my head, a radio station on in the background, and a heart trying desperately to think of a reason to live. Inside, I was saying "If you really want me here God, then you're going to have to show me loud and clear."
Suddenly, and I swear this is true, I heard one of the most remarkable opening lines I'd ever heard for a song and I heard this slightly twangy yet soulful voice singing...
"When the road gets dark
And you can no longer see
Just let my love throw a spark
And have a little faith in me..."
I have to be honest. I was more than a little pissed. I mean, c'mon, THAT was loud and clear.
I cried. A lot. I put the gun down. I called a friend who came and took it away and just listened for hours upon hours. I wasn't fixed overnight. Obviously. It doesn't work that way, but John Hiatt's music reached me that night when nothing else was reaching me.
And time after time after time again, John Hiatt's music has done the exact same thing over and over and over again. When I learned pieces of his story? I was in awe of the accidental connection it provided me. When I learned he was from my hometown of Indianapolis? Exact same thing.
I've loved John Hiatt ever since and now I even listen to his up-and-coming daughter, Lilly Hiatt.
During the pandemic, Hiatt teamed up with multiple Grammy-winning legend Jerry Douglas and his band to record the Grammy nominated album Leftover Feelings. Hiatt and Douglas recorded at Elvis's favorite studio - RCA's Studio B - where legends like Elvis, Dolly, and Waylon arrived before them along with a wealth of history's other top performers.
Co-directed by Lagan Sebert and Ted Roach, Leftover Feelings: A Studio B Revival started out as a simpler project to simply document the recording of the album. As the recording began, it became clear that this film had become something special and, indeed, Leftover Feelings is mighty, mighty special.
The film features commentary from the likes of Dolly Parton, Lyle Lovett, Rodney Crowell, Emmylou Harris, Jeff Hanna, and others. Leftover Feelings looks and feels and sounds like Americana come to life. Everything that I've always loved about John Hiatt comes to life here from his remarkable reverence for those who paved the pathways before him to his remarkable honesty whether singing or simply sitting down telling a story. As someone who took years to even attend my first John Hiatt concert (thanks to a close friend who finally said "You're going!"), Leftover Feelings feels like it's a concert without walls and a glimpse inside the genius mind who tells stories like no other. Hiatt's song Light of the Burning Sun, which he wrote about his older brother's suicide, brings me to tears and does so even more now having heard Hiatt talk about it.
Yes, I know. I know. I've talked a lot about Hiatt and not so much about Jerry Douglas. Douglas's remarkably artistry comes to life here, yet what also comes to life here is his remarkable humanity and his sense of camaraderie with those around him. I admittedly knew much less about Douglas prior to Leftover Feelings, however, after watching this film it's completely clear that this was a remarkable pairing and both artists really brought out the best in one another. Douglas is a 14-time Grammy winner and three-time CMA Musician of the Year known for the resonator guitar and the Dobro. He's played extensively with Allison Krauss & Union Station and his music has appeared on over 1500 albums.
Watching Leftover Feelings is really watching two legends of Americana get together for a soulful jam session and somehow, miraculously, making each other even better.
Having already screened at a dozen film fests nationwide, Leftover Feelings: A Studio B Revival arrives here in Indy as an official selection at Indy Film Fest. While we learn in Hiatt's Real Fine Love that he "stole out of Indiana in the back of a pickup truck," he returns almost annually to play a variety of venues. After taking far too long to see him myself (and sobbing like a baby when the encore included Have a Little Faith in Me), I've seen him four times now and plan for it to be even more.
For true John Hiatt and Jerry Douglas fans, Leftover Feelings: A Studio B Revival is an absolute must see. For fans of musical history, Americana, and Studio B, Leftover Feelings is an absolute must see.
Indeed, there's no other way to say it. Leftover Feelings: A Studio B Revival is a must see musical journey with two of Americana's legends and I'll dare say it'll make you love them even more.
Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic