Over the decades, and in various quests to land his audience, the presentation of Hiatt's resilient songs changed to fit the times. Beginning in the mid-'70s, he went from singer-songwriter to Elvis Costello-ish rocker to progressive-country/adult alternative icon. However, they all bear the craft of a superlative writer who finds his voice with both tender ballads and hotwired rockers.
Unlike Capitol''s 1998 release, The Best of John Hiatt, which contained several inferior re-recordings of older tunes, this Hiatt best-of contains the original versions of most of his best-known tunes. The 18-track collection contains healthy dollops of 1987''s Bring the Family (with Nick Lowe, Ry Cooder, and Jim Keltner) and 1988''s Slow Turning, including "Memphis in the Meantime," "Thing Called Love," "Drive South," and "Tennessee Plates." It''s filled out with material from the more recent Stolen Moments ("Real Fine Love") and Perfectly Good Guitar (the title track and "Buffalo River Home"). Mercifully, only one track ("Angel Eyes") is culled from his goofy live album, Hiatt Comes Alive at Budokan?. Hiatt''s hound-dog voice and his ability to attract superior players adds luster, but it''s the gems from his knockout songwriting run from the late ''80s and early ''90s that make this an essential disc, particularly for those who don''t own the individual albums. --Robert Baird
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