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John Hiatt: Mystic Pinball

Blues-slugging bombast from storied US songwriter.

Drafting in Aerosmith/ Black Crowes producer Kevin Shirley for last year’s Dirty Jeans And Mudslide Hymns turned out to be a smart move by John Hiatt. The album was full of punch and brio, which served to accentuate the urgent drama of the narratives. Little surprise, then, that Shirley is back for the Nashville veteran’s hasty follow-up, backed by Hiatt’s trusty three-piece band of players, The Combo.

It starts very much in the same vein, his fantastically gnarled voice coursing through the truculent roadhouse blues of We’re Alright Now and Bite Marks. And rarely in recent years has Hiatt been more animated than on My Business, a defiant tale of a man whose disapproving wife only wishes to see him buried inside a wooden box.

That said, sometimes these songs’ big, strident settings tend to obscure the subtle beauty of Hiatt the songwriter. This is a man, after all, who’s been covered by everyone from Dylan and B.B. King to Clapton and Iggy Pop.

When the noise dips, as on the gorgeous Blues Can’t Even Find Me, Hiatt suddenly becomes extra luminous.