Verse-Chorus-Verse: John Hiatt’s “Have a Little Faith in Me”

Is the chorus in John Hiatt’s “Have a Little Faith in Me” a steadfast, comforting pledge, or a soft plea in need of acknowledgment?

“Have a Little Faith in Me” – Bill Frisell, Kermit Driscoll, and Joey Baron

Written by John Hiatt

From Live, Gramavision/Rykodisc, 1995

Since its initial appearance in 1987 on writer John Hiatt‘s popular Bring the Family album, “Have a Little Faith in Me” has become something of a modern classic. The song has been covered numerous times, by wildly different artists, but my favorite version is this live instrumental arrangement by guitarist Bill Frisell, bassist Kermit Driscoll, and drummer Joey Baron.

Though Frisell, Driscoll, and Baron are quite capable of radical song-reconstruction, madcap rhythmic shifts, and rollercoaster twists of form, here they wisely allow their arrangement of “Have a Little Faith in Me” to unfold gently, within a fairly accessible structure. The often-angular and surprising Baron even breaks into a straight-out pop backbeat for a few measures.

Frisell’s slow-motion textural approach suits the sentiment of the song very well throughout; he basically conjures the intent of the lyric through the sounds of the guitar. This isn’t a particularly easy accomplishment, given the the subtle complexity of the lyric, which is somewhere between a promise and a plea. Here’s an excerpt:

…when the tears you cry

Are all you can believe

Just give these loving arms a try

And have a little faith in me

When your secret heart

Cannot speak so easily

Come here darlin’

From a whisper start

To have a little faith in me

What I like about the lyric is that it works on a classic soul/gospel dual level: the narrative of the song could be the voice of a lover asking for reconsideration or a second chance, but it could also be the voice of a higher power, offering unconditional solace and comfort. Each interpreter of this song has a specific take on it, and owns it differently.

The particularly interesting thing about this wordless take on the song is that Frisell seems to aurally dwell in that grey area between those two interpretations — it is not clear whether the stirring chorus in this version is a steadfast, comforting pledge, or a soft plea in need of acknowledgment. It’s that hint of emotional dissonance that makes for a highly compelling, deeply soulful listen. This is a testimony to both Hiatt’s original melody, and the emotive, intricate exploration of that melody by this trio.

Admittedly, this version is a better first-taste of Frisell’s guitar approach than Hiatt’s songwriting prowess, since the entire lyrical component is missing here. But it’s also a fine example of how a truly great song can transcend genre and style limitations, especially in the hands of an inspired interpreter.

It just takes a little faith to hear it.

An earlier edit of this post first appeared on on 14 February 2006.