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Music review: John Hiatt at his lyrical best on new CD 'Mystic Pinball'

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed. The Associated Press
Thursday, September 27, 2012 - 12:01 am

John Hiatt, “Mystic Pinball”

(New West Records)

Some performers can sound good singing a grocery list, and it turns out John Hiatt is one of them.

“Eggs,” Hiatt warbles on the “Fargo”-esque “Wood Chipper.” “Hamburger meat. Bread. Funyuns.”

Fans hungry for fresh Hiatt will be well satisfied by “Mystic Pinball,” his 21st album. When he's not contrasting mundane shopping to murder, he offers tuneful observations on addiction, gratitude, faith, doubt and love gone right or (mostly) wrong.

Hiatt gets bluesy on some of the best songs, including the sax-driven “One of These Damn Days” and the ballad “Blues Can't Even Find Me.” There are also nods to classic rock, from “Sweet Jane” chord changes (“I Just Don't Know What To Say”) to a “We Are The Champions” beat (“We're Alright Now”). The acoustic waltz “No Wicked Grin” is sweet without being sentimental.

The killer cut “Wood Chipper” ranks among Hiatt's best songs. A love triangle leaves the singer dead with a verse and two choruses still to go, and at the end Hiatt offers a satisfied, sinister cackle.

The dozen cuts include a couple of throwaways, but even those tunes swing thanks to a crack band led by guitarist Doug Lancio and bassist Patrick O'Hearn. They're a fine complement to Hiatt, whose distinctive tenor always brings a smile, especially on a word like Funyuns.