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John Hiatt

Mystic Pinball – 2012 (New West)

Reviewed by Brian Baker

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CDs by John Hiatt

Over the course of his 40-year career, John Hiatt has pretty much hit for the stylistic cycle, from folk troubadour to skinny tie new wave rager to roots rock raconteur to alt.-country shitkicker to bluesy bruiser, utilizing varying degrees of his various musical personae as his songs required. Just as importantly, Hiatt has made sure to fold in elements of his tough/tender singer/songwriter side in every musical iteration he's presented, which has provided a consistent thread for his voluminous and estimable catalog.

In the process, Hiatt has become one of America's most durable and endearing songwriters and the go-to guy when an artist is looking to sprinkle their set with a little outsourced brilliance; Bonnie Raitt, Delbert McClinton, Steve Earle, Iggy Pop, Three Dog Night, Emmylou Harris and an arena full of others have all contributed to Hiatt's royalty rate.

Hiatt's 21st studio album, "Mystic Pinball," comes on the heels of a nice streak of 3 good and 2 great albums for New West, the last 2, 2010's"The Open Road" and 2011's"Dirty Jeans and Mudslide Hymns," among the best of his canon.

"Mystic Pinball" stands as a crafty finish to the trilogy, combining Stonesy/T. Rex-in-Nashville choogle (We're Alright Now, Bite Marks) with mid-tempo roots pop (It All Comes Back Someday) and contemplative folk-tinted balladry (I Know How to Lose You). Hiatt even manages a couple of surprises in the Coen brothers black humor script-in-song of Wood Chipper and the blues stomp of One of Them Damn Days. In the past, Hiatt's brilliant lyrical sense has often compensated for lapses in the musical presentation, but his Combo scorches on "Mystic Pinball," making Hiatt's razor-sharp storytelling even more compellingly effective.