"Master of Disaster"

New West

John Hiatt grew up in Indianapolis and now lives in Nashville, but he has compensated for those disadvantages by hiring some of the funkiest bands ever assembled. Over the years he has hired the L.A./London pros of Little Village, the Louisiana swamp-masters of the Goners and the Cracker alumni of the Guilty Dogs. Now he has recorded "Master of Disaster," with guitarist Luther Dickinson and drummer Cody Dickinson of the North Mississippi Allstars, while their father, Memphis legend Jim Dickinson, produced.

The result is not the crackling blend of R.L. Burnside and Duane Allman that the Allstars are famous for, but rather the easy-going soul-meets-country groove of Al Green or Arthur Alexander, played impeccably by the Dickinson family and Muscle Shoals bassist David Hood, and captured with astonishing vividness by the new Sonoma recording system. It doesn't hurt that Hiatt has written some of the best melodies of his career -- from the pop-blues hook of the title track to the finger-picking roll of the car song "Thunderbird," from the R&B ballad "Ain't Ever Goin' Back" to the Randy Newman-meets-Mississippi John Hurt ragtime of "Back on the Corner."

Like Bob Dylan, Hiatt no longer writes in the linear flow of conversation but shoves stray epigrams together in the hopes that the juxtapositions will strike sparks. Sometimes those sparks ignite, as on "When My Love Crosses Over," where the metaphor comparing new love to the Mississippi blossoms in the line, "Just one more step and that river took hold."

-- Geoffrey Himes

Appearing Tuesday with the North Mississippi Allstars at Wolf Trap.