On a creative roll after 2000's acoustic Crossing Muddy Waters, John Hiatt returned rejuvenated as well as electric. Old backing band the Goners returned for his 17th -- and best -- album in the 13 years that have passed since the same outfit accompanied him on 1988's classic Slow Turning. Unlike its intentionally cheesy tongue-in-cheek title, Tiki Bar is a keenly constructed collection of heartfelt, bluesy tunes that rock -- and often rock hard -- with tremendous soul. Subtle use of drum loops and the occasional overdub enhances, but doesn't update, Hiatt's roots approach. Like the Band, whose "The Weight" he evokes on "Hangin' Round Here," these songs seemingly spring from a bottomless well of melodies and hooks, all energized by his raw, throaty vocals. The famed Goners guitarist, Louisiana's Sonny Landreth, positively burns throughout, especially on slide, and the group consistently coalesces like Crazy Horse on a hot night. They follow their eclectic leader through waltzy ballads, folksy love songs, mid-tempo burners, and even an unusual album-closing ten-minute psychedelic romp, "Farther Stars," that takes the Beatles' "Tomorrow Never Knows" to the Middle Eastern swamps. Far from winding down in his fifties, John Hiatt released the most inspired work of his life. Not quite as magical as his high-water mark, Bring the Family, this is still a superbly crafted disc whose songs quickly sink in and stay lodged in your brain.
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AllMusic Review by Hal Horowitz