Wednesday, February 14, 2007

"Feels Like Rain" / John Hiatt

It being Valentine's Day, I don't want to write about Love Misery songs -- and face it, most so-called love songs are about unrequited love, or unconsummated love, or jealous love, or post-break-up love. No, I want a contented love song, and if it can be a little sexy as well, even better.

If you want a song to win your true love, you can't go wrong with John Hiatt. The most obvious choice is "Have a Little Faith In Me," which always gets the couples at John Hiatt concerts slow-dancing and gazing moonily into each others' eyes. But instead I'm beelining for his 1988 album Slow Turning, which from start to finish is all about love -- real, getting-through-life, fight-and-make-up, learn-to-live-with-your-demons love. I never know which track is my favorite -- is it the rockin'-out "Drive South" ("Don't bother to pack your nylons...It gets HOT down where we're going..."), the wry ode to family life "Slow Turning" (with his rambunctious kids in the back seat "bangin' like Charlie Watts"), or the heartfelt plea of "Is Anybody There?" (I go weak in the knees every time I hear John sing "'Cause I'm such a stubborn man / Stubborn as a mule / Even though I struggle some, I believe a change will come / And I hear you love a fool").

In the end, though, I always go for "Feels Like Rain," one of the most emotive love songs ever written. It's been covered by loads of other artists -- and it deserves to be -- but I don't think anybody does it better than John himself.

That leisurely tempo takes its own sweet time, with Sonny Landreth laying down light-fingered electric guitar licks while John tinkers around on the electric piano. The texture of this song feels just like the sort of gentle nighttime rain that sweeps in to wash away all the grit and hurt of the day -- if rainfall sound-effects had been layered in, it couldn't sound any more atmospheric. And over it all John's vocals work some serious R&B voodoo, crooning and howling and whispering and coaxing, so gruff and yet so tender.

The first verse starts out lazy and carnal: "Down here the river meets the sea / And in the sticky heat I feel you / Open up to me." (I'm fanning myself already, aren't you?) It's all about the mood, and the moment, and that rising barometric pressure; the chords shift upward too, with growing urgency, as John warns: "Love comes out of nowhere, baby / Just like a hurricane." Then, like a dying gust of wind, his voice drops downward, caressing the refrain: "And it feels like rain / And it feels like rain." This isn't just rain, it's heat-wave-breaking, drought-ending rain, the kind of meteorological event that makes folks change their plans. "We'll never make that bridge tonight / Across Lake Pontchartrain," John decides, without a trace of regret; "Batten down the hatches . . . A little bit of stormy weather / That's no cause for us to leave . . ." No indeed, I'm staying right here, all cozy and relaxed and oh yes.

For some reason this song reminds me of one of my favorite Bob Dylan tracks, "You Ain't Going Nowhere" -- it's not just the similar scenario (clouds rolling in, folks hunkering down to wait out the storm), it's also that spirit of happy recklessness. The two songs sound nothing alike, but Dylan was one of Hiatt's earliest influences, so who knows? "Feels Like Rain" also makes me think of a jazzy Kinks track called "Stormy Sky" (on their underrated Sleepwalker album), which again turns waiting out a rainstorm into a tender seduction. But stack up John Hiatt's singing here against Bob Dylan's or Ray Davies' and . . . well, it's no contest. For Valentine's Day, I need a voice that'll make me shiver and catch my breath. That's John Hiatt, every time.

Check out the song at


Matty said...

Hi Holly,

I think Bill Frisell may well do an instrumental version of this, which is how I came across it.

Gotta say I'm really impressed by your blog. You've got a pretty vast range of musical knowledge, both in terms of genre and era. Beach Boys, Franz Ferdinand, Lyle Lovett ... think I've seen all those names on these pages.

Keep up the reviews.



Wakeup said...

A beautiful song performed just right. I always enjoyed the Buddy Guy/Bonnie Raitt version, too. Nice thoughts.


- Wakeup

Carol said...

Again Holly, my fave Hiatt tune. Great guitar too. Reminds me of an old flame (that really flamed out pretty quick) that I connected with as the rain begun after a drought, in both the physical and emotional aspects.