John Hiatt's near-three-decade career has not been marked by hit albums, but rather by many exceedingly good, and some indisputably great, original songs that have found their way into other artists' repertoires, and from there onto the upper reaches of the charts. This well-deserved, intelligently assembled two-CD Anthology
puts the spotlight squarely on Hiatt's own work, and only deepens the mystery as to why his rootsy blend of rock, blues, folk, and country hasn't struck a deeper chord with the record-buying public. Spanning a 26-year period from 1974 to 2000 that found him bounced from label to label, Anthology
collects Hiatt's versions of his landmark songs -- wonderful, deeply felt recordings of, among others, "Memphis in the Meantime," "Drive South," the Bonnie Raitt
mega-hit "Thing Called Love," "Have a Little Faith in Me," and the exquisite duet with Rosanne Cash
, "How We Mend a Broken Heart." Arranged in chronological order, this 40-song tour captures Hiatt's remarkable evolution from punkish rock 'n' roll (his early brash songs bear a striking similarity to Elvis Costello's, lyrically and vocally) to blues-rock to country and combinations thereof. As a lyricist Hiatt is by turns wry, sarcastic, idealistic, cynical, big-hearted, and even at times incurably romantic; and when he puts those sentiments to artfully crafted melodies, his work stands tall, a world unto itself -- vivid, picturesque, and singularly distinctive and American.