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Album Reviews

1. Master Of Disaster
2. Howlin' Down The Cumberland
3. Thunderbird
4. Wintertime Blues
5. When My Love Crosses Over
6. Love's Not Where We Thought We Left It
7. Ain't Ever Goin' Back
8. Cold River
9. Find You At Last
10. Old School
11. Back On The Corner

John Hiatt - Master of Disaster - reviewed by Ed Bumgardner

In the course of 21 albums (wha?), John Hiatt has transformed from a New Wave smart-ass to a grizzled sober survivor of the bar wars. Itís been a long, strange and musically varied trip that has seen him sail to commercial and critical heights, and to go out through the in door (and back again) more times than he or his fans would care to count.

Master Of Disaster is a mature return to form - frankly, a surprise. These songs, all bearing that classic Hiatt touch, light up like heat lightning, whereas his last few albums have fizzled like wet sparklers. Credit producer Jim Dickinson for much of the albumís success.

He laid Hiatt bare, stripping away the gloss and artifice that have crippled recent albums, then fancied him up just enough to let his natural light shine. Hiatt hasnít sounded this vital in years; his wit wiggles on the title cut, a story of a hapless blues guitarist flaming out, and the chilling ďCold HeartĒ finds him at his storytelling best.

There is no getting around it: Master Of Disaster is a fine batch of songs, lyrically astute, just introspective enough and decorated with a juke-joint edge that offsets blue folk melodies. These songs flutter in a soft breeze that blows between Memphis and the hill country of North Mississippi.

The band is good, sympathetic to the songs and just hot enough. Cody and Luther Dickinson of the North Mississippi All Stars, augmented by bassist David Hood of Muscle Shoals fame, add texture to each track, but never detract from Hiatt, who largely rises to the occasion - witty, not glib. Itís not a perfect album, but itís a good one, ripe with the sort of appeal that grows slowly and lingers, finding fresh ways to intrigue as time spills on.

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