John Hiatt,
Crossing Muddy Waters
(Vanguard, 2000)

This is not just John Hiatt's best album, it is one of those stunning masterpieces of musical authenticity that are bestowed upon us once or twice a year.

Crossing Muddy Waters eclipses the so-called "masterpieces" of his earlier career, such as 1987's Bring the Family, because it is the kind of tutorial on the origin's of American music that Hiatt had been working towards for over a decade. This is Hiatt's only no-nonsense, stripped-bare, down-to-business collection of songs on which jangling acoustic guitars pervade every song and craft the album's sound. Yes, you'll here some spare percussion, a few blues guitars here and there, and even a Tom Waits-ish banging on the heroically brilliant and instantly addictive "Lift Up Every Stone," which sounds like Waits took Hiatt to the junkyard in search of new musical weaponry. Despite that song's success, Hiatt shines most luminously on the bare folk tracks, which drive the final nail through any lingering doubts as to Hiatt's importance in America's contemporary songwriting scene.

Brilliant folk songs like "Take It Down," "Lincoln Town," "What Do We Do Now" and "Only the Song Survives" all designate Hiatt as one of the country's best contemporary songwriters. They offer every ingredient found in the work of the best in the field, from Neil Young to Gordon Lightfoot to Bob Dylan to Townes Van Zandt. Those ingredients include pathos, convincing vocals, excellent musicianship and compelling, quotable lyrics.

- Rambles
written by Gianmarc Manzione
published 14 June 2003

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