There are some musicians who have so much talent that you can only wonder why they are not huge stars. It makes you despair at the unfairness of the world. John Hiatt is just such an artist. Having met and worked with him at the syndicated radio show E-Town, I sort of understand why he is not huge. He does not suffer fools gladly, and finds most humans fall into that category. But affability has little to do with artistic ability. Crossing Muddy Waters, his latest Vanguard release, is more proof that John Hiatt is the kind of songwriter and performer whose musical strengths far outweigh his personal weaknesses.
Unlike his last album, which featured a full band with revved up rock and roll arrangements, Crossing Muddy Waters is simple and stripped down. It is musical skinny dipping with nothing between the listener and the bare necessities. Made during a three-day session at Hounds Ear Studio with primarily acoustic instruments, it feels like a bunch of folks in someone's living room having a real good time. Co-conspirators include Davey Fairagher on bass, tambourine, metal folding chair and harmony vocals, and David Immerglüch on mandolin, electric mandolin, baritone mandolin, acoustic twelve string guitar, electric slide guitar, and harmony vocals. That's it, just two guys besides John. Co-producer Justin Niebank and mastering engineer Jim Demain deserve kudos for capturing the very natural ambience and spirit of the sessions.
The title cut, "Crossing Muddy Waters", is a haunting blues-tinged ballad that sounds more like an ancient Appalachian tune than a contemporary pop song. I'm sure it will be rapidly covered by some big country or rock star just as many of Hiatt's other songs have been. If you don't have any of his previous releases, Crossing Muddy Water would be an excellent way to begin a lifelong relationship. John Hiatt is someone worthy of your full attention.
Sound Quality: 90