John Hiatt

Only the Song Survives

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Between 1974 and 1997, John Hiatt recorded for six different major labels, none of which could figure out how to market him to hit-making status, no matter which producer or concept they imposed on him. Regardless of his surroundings, he always ended up sounding like John Hiatt, a smart, snarky guy who could also be sensitive and perceptive when he needed to be, and possessing the sort of richly rough-hewn voice roots rock fans love but which is considered too craggy for radio. In 2000, Hiatt finally ditched the major labels to record Crossing Muddy Waters for Vanguard Records, and after a second album for that label, he moved to New West Records, cutting eight studio albums for them between 2003 (Beneath This Gruff Exterior) and 2018 (The Eclipse Sessions). While 1987's Bring the Family has remained Hiatt's masterpiece, his output from 2000 onward shared many of the qualities that made that album great, in particular a willingness to bare his soul and keeping the music natural and free of gimmicks. His work for Vanguard and New West arguably represents the most strongly consistent period of his career, and that music is celebrated in full on 2019's Only the Song Survives, a glossy repackaging of the ten studio album he issued in this period, as well as 2005's Live from Austin, TX, drawn from his 1993 appearance on the TV series Austin City Limits. Each album has been given a new LP pressing on 180-gram vinyl, the set includes a glossy book of essays on Hiatt and his music (including contributions from Ry Cooder, Steve Earle, Patterson Hood, Rodney Crowell, and James McMurtry) autographed by Hiatt himself, and the contents are packaged in a special carrier that looks a bit like a briefcase stamped with the name of the set. Given the elaborate packaging and expense of this collection (it lists at roughly $250), this is the kind of item clearly intended for Hiatt's most devoted fans, which is a bit of a paradox given that they're the ones most likely to already own all the music included (though some of the albums have never before been given a vinyl release). But Only the Song Survives preserves 18 years in the life of one of America's best working songwriters on a late-career hot streak, and whether you get this as a collectable or for everyday listening, this is well worth hearing and owning.

Track Listing - Disc 9

Title/Composer Performer Time Stream
blue highlight denotes track pick