Picks and Pans Review: The Best of John Hiatt

updated 09/21/1998 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 09/21/1998 AT 01:00 AM EDT

John Hiatt (Capitol)

You may not recognize his face nor, for that matter, his sandpaper growl. But when it comes to these 17 memorable songs, John Hiatt is easy to place. Bonnie Raitt and Suzy Bogguss have had giant hits with, respectively, "Thing Called Love" and "Drive South," both featured on this CD in all their rough-hewn glory. "Have a Little Faith in Me," reinterpreted here with a full gospel choir, has been covered by everyone from Joe Cocker to Jewel. What makes Hiatt's tunes so appealing is the way that they straddle rock, blues, country and R&B, all with a healthy dose of self-deprecating humor. With 15 albums to his credit since 1974, Hiatt can light Fourth of July firecrackers under even the most familiar three-chord vamp. At his best, the Nashville-based songwriter paints an authentic American portrait of Shangri-la. And with such down-home lyrics as "Put the cow horns back on the Cadillac/And change the message on the Code-a-Phone," he slyly puts it within reach.

Bottom Line: Snappy standards from a neglected American treasure

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