Various Artists: It (2003)
Warren Zevon, Delbert McClinton; Townes Van Zant, Guy Clark, Rodney Crowell, Lowell George, John Hiatt—these are song writers that made many, many "lesser" talents rich with their craft. John Hiatt has been plying his trade at a consistently high level for the past 30 years over 17 record albums. In that time, Hiatt’s songs have been covered more than fifty times. That is a pretty good return for his efforts. Mr. Hiatt is long overdue for the current attention he is receiving.
After 1997’s Capitol release Little Head, Hiatt made his way to the Vanguard label. In many ways, this is a perfect match. Vanguard has long been the keeper of the music of Americana. John Hiatt has been its most recent proponent. Since fully finding his voice with 1987’s exquisite Bring the Family, Hiatt crystallized his vision with the help of über slide guitarist Ry Cooder. On that point, Hiatt’s music is suffused with slide guitar. After Cooder stamped Bring the Family, Sonny Landreth joined Hiatt for the subsequent tour. We can credit John Hiatt with for first presenting the finest slide guitarist alive. Americana.
On this tribute of sorts, Hiatt chose covers of his music and added a few new ones just for sport. He provides few surprises. Bonnie Raitt is on hand with "Thing Called Love," providing that necessary Lowell George-inflected slide guitar on Buddy Guy’s version of "Feels Like Rain" and Emmylou Harris’ interpretation of "Icy Blue Heart." Eric Clapton and B.B. King titled their recent duet recording with Hiatt’s "Riding with the King." Perhaps the best offering here, though over-produced, is Willie Nelson’s rendition of "The Most Unoriginal Sin," perhaps the most perfect song Hiatt has ever penned.
But these are only the released songs. Vanguard enlisted Buddy and Julie Miller for a corrosive version of "Paper Thin." Patty Griffin expresses a super-sensual "Take It Down." And Robert Bradley and his band the Blackwater Surprise cruise with the title cut, "It’ll Come to You." All in all, this is a superb tribute disc—if that is, in fact, what it is. It certainly highlights the treasure, which is John Hiatt.