Leftover Feelings is neither a bluegrass album nor a return to Hiatt’s 1980s days with slide guitar greats Ry Cooder and Sonny Landreth, though Douglas’s opening riff on “Long, Black Electric Cadillac” nods to Landreth’s charged intro to “Tennessee Plates,” Hiatt’s epic tale of heisting Elvis Presley’s Cadillac, a car that was surely purchased with proceeds from some of the 250-plus songs the King recorded at Studio B.
There’s no drummer, yet these grooves are deep and true. And while the up-tempo songs are, as ever, filled with delightful internal rhyme and sly aggression, The Jerry Douglas Band’s empathetic musicianship nudges Hiatt to performances that are startlingly vulnerable. Built when Hiatt was five years old, Studio B was designed for music to be made in real time by musicians listening to each other and reacting in the emotional moment. That’s what happened here: Five players on the studio floor, making decisions on instinct rather than calculation.
A half-century ago, Hiatt lived in a ratty, $15-a-week room on Nashville’s 16th Avenue, less than a mile away from the RCA and Columbia studios that were the heartbeat of what had come to be known as “Music Row.”
In the ensuing 50 years, he went from a scuffling young buck to a celebrated grand master of song. His lyrics and melodies have graced more than 20 studio albums, have been recorded by Bob Dylan, Emmylou Harris, B.B. King, Willie Nelson, Bonnie Raitt and scores of others, and have earned him a place in the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame, a BMI Troubadour award, and a lifetime achievement in songwriting designation from the Americana Music Association.