Walter Hyatt – King Tears
Right up front, here’s the straight dope: King Tears is a masterpiece. Recorded and released in 1990 for MCA Nashville’s mostly instrumental Master Series imprint and co-produced by Lyle Lovett and Billy Williams, the album got its 15 minutes of obscurity before disappearing — a fate common among Nashville-released records that fall outside what the industry there defines as “country.”
Which is to say that this is a singer-songwriter album that leans more toward jazz ‘n’ lounge than country. Hyatt’s warm and occasionally raspy baritone wraps around the generally downbeat material like fine brandy hugs a snifter; think Nat “King” Cole woodshedding with Willie Nelson during the latter’s Tin Pan Alley period. The playing, by a small ensemble featuring ex-Uncle Walt’s Band-mate Champ Hood on guitar, Matt Rollings on piano, Craig Nelson on acoustic bass and Paul Leim on drums, is always sweet and sensitive and never overbearing, as is Lovett and Williams’ deft production. But the sharpness and directness of the approach here betrays a sensibility that’s more honky-tonk weaned than suave.
King Tears, just reissued, opens with a pair of Hyatt originals (“Tell Me Baby”, “Blind Love Blues”) that evoke a peculiarly late-night contemplation of unrequited love; both tunes deserve to become standards in years to come. “This Time, Lucille”, a co-write with another Uncle Walt’s alumnus, David Ball, is next, followed by “Ruby”, a tune associated with Ray Charles. Another fine downbeat original, “Outside Looking Out”, precedes an exquisite cover of a song by French icon Charles Trenet, “Que reste-t-il de nos amours?”, on which Hyatt really demonstrates the resonance and depth of his eclectic approach.
“In November” (co-written with Tom Mitchell) and “Situe” (co-written with Hood) continue the late-night mood, followed by the bluesy Hyatt-penned title cut, which took its name from an East Austin funeral home and contains a wicked descending guitar riff. The album’s closer, the breezy “Aloha”, is also a Hyatt original, written in 1974 for Uncle Walt’s Band; Ball and Hood join him on vocals. All in all, King Tears is a first-rate effort from an American songwriter of major caliber.
Which makes listening to it today such a poignant experience. At the time of his death, Hyatt was working on a new record for Sugar Hill, which released his last album, Music Town, in 1993. Perhaps the reissue of King Tears will garner Hyatt the major recognition in death that eluded him in life. God only knows, if he’d made it the first time around, he might’ve been flying first-class on a real airline. What a loss.