Crossing Muddy Waters
Vanguard Records, 2000
REVIEW BY: Matthew Turk
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 01/30/2002
This CD, featuring an almost exclusively acoustic set of blues by John Hiatt, is evocative, emotional, and utterly successful. From the opening, road-trip strains of "Lincoln Town" to the closing of "Before I Go," it is a set of music that inspires the soul and brings tears to the eyes.
The aforementioned "Lincoln Town" feels like a tribute to a place of decadence, a weekender place for relaxation from worry. "Crossing Muddy Waters" is restrained and emotional, about desertion and love and choices - Hiatt's deftly navigated guitar plays nice counterpoint to the words. The first truly melancholy track, "What Do We Do Now" features the title as a mantra, a question to a partner and to oneself; its honesty, raw and brutal, is shocking - hopelessness is just barely countered by the subtle indications of a yearning, a yearning for a return to simpler times and simpler loves; when complicated issues were other people's problems. "Only The Song Survives" is much more upbeat, a playful string of seemingly nonsensical, but wonderful verses. It feels like a song to sing in the rain, holding hands.
"Lift Up Every Stone" is the first track to (prominently) feature electric guitar. It features stingingly distorted guitar, with Hiatt singing like he was angry, and a chorus that drills into the mind. Of particular fun is the stripped down vocals around two and a half minutes in. "Take It Down" is another restrained, sad song. Much like "What Do We Do Now" it features a sad, simple refrain; but the background sounds are augmented by deeper voices and instruments, which further reinforce the atmosphere. This song is far more sad than "What Do We Do Now," which is at least tempered by hope. It also features a particularly evoking guitar solo, which I found to be one of the simplest, shortest, and best solos on the disc.
Again, we're given a fun and playful track following bleakness. "Gone" is energetic and delightful, belying the subject of the lyrics. "Take It Back" is fun but not outstanding; it's a simple song, with simple lyrics, but not bad. The guitar licks toward the end are interesting, as well. "Mr. Stanley" is the only track I regularly skip. It's long, drawn out, and I honestly don't like the way the voice sounds - it's far too whiny, too mournful.
"God's Golden Eye" is rich and lush; far more so than most of the tracks on the album. That song and "Before I Go" complete the album very nicely, bringing closure to some of the issues we felt earlier on.
With the close of the album, I always feel like starting it over again - it is wonderful, fulfilling. This is what music should be; honest and raw, without being depressing or elating. Just pure.