Before a recent show by John Hiatt and the Guilty Dogs, I was pleased to hear songs from Howlin' Wolf's Moanin' in the Moonlight play over the speakers while Hiatt's stagehands scurried. It figures John Hiatt would be a Howlin' Wolf fan. It also figures contemporary blues and folk artists dig Hiatt, who has dabbled in every rootsy style imaginable. Bonnie Raitt rose up the charts on the strength of his "Thing Called Love." More recently, Eric Clapton and B.B. King named their collaborative CD after the Hiatt song "Ridin' With the King."
Now, some lesser-known blues, folk and zydeco musicians jump on the Hiatt bandwagon for this fine Telarc tribute CD. The collection includes blues performers Irma Thomas, Kenny Neal, Kris Wiley, James Cotton, Colin Linden, Tab Benoit, and Raful Neal, as well as zydeco men C. J. Chenier and Terrance Simien, and folk artists Odetta, Chris Smithers, Patty Larkin and Cliff Eberhardt. These artists are backed on most cuts by a six-piece band that includes G.E. Smith (guitars) and Anthony Geraci (piano, organ).
Given the vast number of songs John Hiatt has written, it's a difficult chore selecting a dozen favorites. Telarc wisely mixes the familiar with the obscure. Highlights include C.J. Chenier's fast-paced zydeco treatment of "Falling Up," Colin Linden's gorgeous version of "The River Knows Your Name," and Chris Smither's smoky unplugged take on "Real Fine Love." Vocalist Andre Re and the studio band deliver a stirring version of "Thirty Years of Tears," while Odetta lends her operatic pipes to the haunting tune "Listening to Old Voices." Terrance Simien eschews zydeco for an Aaron Neville-like interpretation of "It Hasn't Happened Yet."
Though I might have assigned the songs differently (I would have loved to hear Irma Thomas sing "Feels Like Rain"), Rollin' Into Memphis features some stellar performances and great tunes.