John Hiatt

John Hiatt

Crossing Muddy Waters

Vanguard

After years of toiling for labels like Epic, MCA, Geffen, A&M, and Capitol, the year 2000 finds John Hiatt issuing his latest recording on the well-respected folk and blues label Vanguard. The change of scenery appears to have done him a world of good, because this is the loosest he’s sounded in a long time.

Crossing Muddy Waters is a mostly acoustic affair with previous Hiatt collaborators Davey Faragher of Cracker (bass, percussion, harmonies) and David Immergluck of Counting Crows (mandolins, slide guitar, harmonies) along for the ride. The record shares some similarities with both 1987’s classic Bring The Family and 1995’s Walk On, but this is the most stripped down blues-tinged folk music Hiatt has recorded. A couple of songs come off more as acoustic blues exercises or homages than as enjoyable new Hiatt compositions. But Hiatt is at his best on tracks like the gospel-influenced “Lift Up Every Stone,” which adds some nasty electric guitar to the mix as he testifies about a murder in a secretive small town. The chorus is guaranteed to have you joining in after a couple of listens. Even better are the celebratory album closers “God’s Golden Eyes” and “Before I Go,” which follow two of the record’s darkest tracks and provide an optimistic antidote at just the right time.

It’s not a record likely to challenge Britney and Christina on the charts, but if Hiatt at this point in his career wants to carve out a niche in the folk-blues world as Vanguard labelmate Peter Case has done, Crossing Muddy Waters sounds like a good start.

Vanguard Recording Society, 2700 Pennsylvania Ave., Santa Monica, CA 90404; http://www.VanguardRecords.com.

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