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Mystic Pinball ()

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To his credit, John Hiatt has never been a guy with much interest in doing the same thing twice in a row, and it's not uncommon for a new Hiatt album to seem like a reaction to the last record he made -- a quiet, acoustic-based album will often be followed by a tougher, more rollicking set, and if he was thoughtful and introspective last time, it's a fair bet he'll sound tougher and wilder the next time he goes into the studio. Since 2011's Dirty Jeans & Mudslide Hymns boasted the slickest production to grace a Hiatt album in quite some time, it's paradoxically appropriate that Mystic Pinball, appearing just 13 months later, sounds a lot looser, funkier, and more lively, as if Hiatt and his band rolled in and cut these songs without much fuss. As it happens, Dirty Jeans and Mystic Pinball were both produced by the same guy, Kevin Shirley, but the finished product certainly sounds and feels different, and the rough and ready tone of these sessions fits the material well, especially the crunchy, blues-shot "My Business," the witty but ominous "Wood Chipper," the marvelously cranky "One of Them Damn Days," and the Stones-style groove of "You're All the Reason I Need." If the production is simple, Hiatt and his band -- Doug Lancio on guitar, Patrick O'Hearn on bass, and Kenneth Blevins on drums -- are locked in tight enough to sound sharp and satisfying without being gimmicked up, and there's a sense of fun in this album that was often missing on Dirty Jeans. And for a guy who has cranked out four studio albums in five years, Hiatt is having a great run as a songwriter -- on this disc, the shaggy dog stories are funny, the blues numbers are full of righteous swagger, and he can sing about love like a guy who is still learning a few things at the age of 60 (and his voice is in fine shape, too). Who knows what sort of about-face John Hiatt will deliver the next time he feels like recording (prog rock, maybe?), but for a guy whose 40th year as a solo artist is appearing on the horizon, he's sounding as full of ideas and energy as a guy half his age, and Mystic Pinball confirms he's still delivering the goods in an impressive fashion. ~ Mark Deming, Rovi Hide synopsis

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