The Terms of My Surrender
New West Records

If all were right with the world, John Hiatt would one day sit in the Kennedy Center mezzanine with a medal dangling around his neck, flanked by a president and grinning like crazy as a parade of superstars honored him. The odds are ridiculously thin, but it’s not for lack of talent. It’s the measuring scales — units sold, statues collected — that keep him out of contention for such accolades. Regardless, he’s still one of the finest singer-songwriters of the last several decades — as Terms of My Surrender reaffirms. Full of down-home blues, its relaxed grooves sidle up to you — and stick. “Nothin’ I Love” drips with that snaky blooz he does so well; “Baby’s Gonna Kick” and the gutbucket “Face of God” show off his harmonica prowess; “Long Time Comin’” carries quiet power; “Old People” brings the laughs. And “Wind Don’t Have to Hurry” brings the gravity, via lynching imagery that suggests allegories to present- day issues. The title tune unspools at a leisurely pace, sweetly sketching the story of a man who’s weathered much, but he’s still got love — and he’ll fight off the reaper to hang onto it. Hiatt lets his expressive voice scrape more, but it’s still supple, and when he hits a high falsetto note, those self-deprecating claims about his aging bod and fading faculties sail out the window. His sterling wit, enormous chops and uncanny ability to make even the seemingly silliest or difficult lyric serve his purpose are as sharp as ever. — LYNNE MARGOLIS