Record Review - 2 August 07 2003

Having your name define a musical genre is generally reserved for living icons like Dylan, Willie Nelson and Lou Reed, or tragic figures like Syd Barrett and Nick Drake who died or burned out before their time. John Hiatt is neither, but there is a unique quality to his brand of singer/songwriter country/rock/blues that pigeonholes an idiosyncratic Americana style.

Now in his early 50s, Hiatt churns through a dozen new songs boasting a craggy ease, rugged affability and lived-in aplomb that only age and experience can provide. On his 17th studio album (for his seventh label) these tracks reverberate with distinctive chord changes, snappy wordplay and a Midwest-meets-Nashville twang best described as “Hiatt-styled.”

If ruminations on life via personal songs like “Circle Back” (partly about dropping his daughter off at college), “Fly Back Home” (“the past is over every day”) and “Nagging Dark” (keeping depression at bay) sound cliched, The Goners’ rocking roots backup trashes all sentimentality. Slide guitarist Sonny Landreth, a solo artist in his own right, is particularly riveting, infusing his swampy stomp against drummer Kenneth Blevins’ locomotive chug-a-lug beats.

Hiatt’s increasingly weathered voice intensifies the resonance. If some of these tunes recall earlier classics Bring the Family and especially Slow Turning, well, that just adds to their Hiattness.

John Hiatt & the Goners play the Roxy Mon., Aug. 11. $26.