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John Hiatt

Dirty Jeans and Mudslide Hymns – 2011 (New West)

Reviewed by Michael Berick

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CDs by John Hiatt

John Hiatt is an iconic figure in the Americana music scene. Drawing upon rock, soul, country and other rootsy sounds, he wraps his neighborly vocals around his incisive lyrics in songs that are pure American. Hiatt follows up last year's "Open Road" with something of an American road album. On "Dirty Jeans," he says Adios to California, takes a Train to Birmingham and drives a Detroit Made car. He could be talking about Tennessee, Louisiana or any flooded rural area in Down Around My Place, as he weaves a story of a family, and family land, that are hit by natural disaster. The disc wraps up on an even more poignant note with When New York Had Her Heart Broken, revisiting the 9/11 tragedy. In both of these tunes, Hiatt crafts particularly subtle arrangements (more eerie on My Place and more ethereal on New York) that enhance his stories' emotional sentiments.

Don't get the impression, however, that this is a somber disc. "Dirty Jeans" is a classic Hiatt mixture of rollicking tunes and more heartfelt numbers, all of which he seems to create effortlessly. I Love That Girl is a warm love song where he recalls meeting his girl "in that house full of drunkards and thieves." The power of love is also the subject of the heartbroken ballad, Til I Get My Lovin' Back and the folksy funkiness of All The Way Under. This trio of tunes follows the disc's terrific leadoff track, Damn This Town, and stand out as a formidable foursome of particularly timeless Hiatt songs. The song serves up a darkly hilarious tale of a family ripe for reality TV. In this tawdry tale, one brother has died in poker game and other is the Florida pen, while the dad was a drunk who died insane. There's a sister "who's a thief and she's filled with hate/now she's gotta job working for the state," and Hiatt, as the narrator, is "fifty-eight years old, still live at home like a kid."

On his 20th solo outing, Hiatt continues to prove that he not only is one of the most talented and enduring songwriters on the American music scene, but he also continues to deliver this tunes with such natural ease that he makes them hard to resist.