John Hiatt

Forced to keep it real

Calling John Hiatt a songwriter's songwriter makes it sound like people don't like him. People do -- they're just not as demonstrative as Bob Dylan, Elvis Costello, Bonnie Raitt, Willie Nelson, Iggy Pop and Bruce Springsteen, all of whom have paid the ultimate compliment by covering a John Hiatt song. And why not? His songs are like a finely crafted joke or a riveting anecdote that any seasoned raconteur relishes retelling. Bonnie Raitt turned "A Thing Called Love" into a steady earner, and B.B. King and Eric Clapton made his "Riding With the King" the title of their Grammy-winning CD. In stinging contrast, you people took 13 years to send one of his classy albums, Bring the Family, onto the charts. Through your kind patronage of that LP and its follow-ups, Hiatt was allowed to collect mail at a major label for more than the obligatory two albums. But you ignored his supergroup Little Village straight into discount bins, and ensured that he'd ride out the next century as a respectable indie recording artist. And maybe that's for the greater good. If you'd turned him into a platinum artist, his songs might suck worse than Phil Collins and he'd be writing for Disney by now.

 
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