After a long road to renown, John Hiatt knows who he is, and so do we. Mystic Pinball, his 21st album, is strong on his steadfast virtues as both a songwriter and a raconteur. His voice might have a bit more grizzle in its sizzle, his sense of humor can lead toward the macabre and his appreciation of loss profound in its understanding. But his dogged sense of purpose and need to make music remains omnipresent.
His bedrock resilience aside, Hiatt has a way of capturing thoughts and catchphrases to create those revelatory moments that make a song universal. “Perfectly Good Guitar,” his 1993 take on a metaphysical rock ritual, recalls both Abraham’s Biblical dilemma as well as those sacrifices made in the service of art. I was riding around and spinning the radio dial in the year 2000 when “What Do We Do Now?” from his Crossing Muddy Waters came over the airwaves and into my heart.
On Pinball, he captures a similar fatalistic feeling of a relationship-on-the-rails with “I Just Don’t Know What To Say,” then follows it with the heart-on-sleeve “I Know How To Lose You,” and un-amplifies it with the delicate “No Wicked Grin.” There are raucous, Stonesy rompers like “Bite Marks,” which showcases guitarist Doug Lancio and the rhythm section of bassist Patrick O’ Hearn and drummer Kenneth Blevins, gothic tales of revenge and murder in “It All Comes Back Someday” and “Wood Chipper,” and rockin’ field hollers like “We’re Alright Now.” In other words, Mystic Pinball is your typical Hiatt album, meat ‘n taters with a side of blues.