various artists,
Rollin' into Memphis:
The Songs of John Hiatt

(Telarc, 2000)

I confess, first, that I'm not that familiar with many of John Hiatt's songs. In fact, none of the ones I know appear on this record. And I've always been more a fan of his voice than of the lyrics and music attached to it. I'm not sure if that's good or bad, but there it is. So I put in this disc and was instantly impressed by the very things I have ignored about John Hiatt: his words and music. These are some really good songs.

Be prepared, when you pick up this record, for a ride. It doesn't have big stars or over-produced voices on it. What it sounds like is a bunch of people who got together to sing some songs they love. They just happen to all love Hiatt's songs. One of the things I dread about tribute records is that the producers will choose vocalists who don't at all suit the songs. I was pleasantly surprised to see that that is not the case here; every track features strong vocals, following in the tradition of Hiatt's unusual voice.

There are a few standouts: Irma Thomas' shining vocal on "Old Habits Are Hard to Break," Kris Wiley's growl on "Wrote It Down," Blackie and the Rodeo Kings' Colin Linden's soul-searing adaptation of "The River Knows Your Name," Chris Smithers' straightforward "Real Fine Love," and Andrea Re's "Thirty Years of Tears."

This is a soul-based tribute to Hiatt, whose songs inhabit decades of alt-folk creation. Rollin' Into Memphis is well worth a listen for John Hiatt fans, as well as for those of you who, like me, are not that familiar with his music.

[ by Rachel Jagt ]
Rambles: 2 March 2002

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