“Even John Hiatt’s most ardent fans weren’t ready for this masterpiece to be dropped in their laps…Hiatt had spent most of the 70’s and 80’s playing pick-a-style, bouncing from southern country rock to Elvis Costello redux and back again” (Ruby). “With Family, though, he pared away every bit of excess and delivered his best set of songs” (Ruby).
“In 1987, John Hiatt, clean and sober and looking for an American record deal, was asked by an A&R man at a British label to name his dream band. After a little thought, Hiatt replied that if he had his druthers, he’d cut a record with Ry Cooder on guitar, Nick Lowe on bass, and Jim Keltner on drums. To Hiatt’s surprise, he discovered all three were willing to work on his next album; Hiatt and his dream band went into an L.A. studio and knocked off Bring the Family in a mere four days, and the result was the best album of Hiatt’s career” (Deming).
“The musicians certainly make a difference here, generating a lean, smoky groove that’s soulful and satisfying (Ry Cooder’s guitar work is especially impressive, leaving no doubt of his singular gifts without ever overstepping its boundaries), but the real triumph here is Hiatt’s songwriting. Bring the Family was recorded after a period of great personal turmoil for him” (Deming); his “sober, uncompromising examination of his previously drunken life was breathtaking” (Ruby) “and for the most part the archly witty phrasemaker of his earlier albums was replaced by an wiser and more cautious writer who had a great deal to say about where life and love can take you” (Deming).
“Hiatt had never written anything as nakedly confessional as Tip of My Tongue or Learning How to Love You before, and even straight-ahead R&B-style rockers like Memphis in the Meantime and Thing Called Love possessed a weight and resonance he never managed before. But Bring the Family isn’t an album about tragedy, it’s about responsibility and belatedly growing up, and it’s appropriate that it was a band of seasoned veterans with their own stories to tell about life who helped Hiatt bring it across; it’s a rich and satisfying slice of grown-up rock & roll” (Deming) and “remains a landmark of adult album rock” (Ruby).
It’s interesting to also note the Bob Dylan-esque nature of Hiatt’s songs in that they have been favorites for other artists to cover. Three songs here may be more identifiable to the general radio public by their covers – Bonnie Raitt did wonders for her career in covering “Thing Called Love” on her Album-of-the-Year Grammy winner Nick of Time while Joe Cocker did a nice version of Have a Little Faith in Me and Lyle Lovett covered “Memphis in the Meantime.”