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After the guitar-heavy rock of 2003's Beneath This Gruff Exterior, John Hiatt decamped to Memphis's Ardent Studios with producer Jim Dickinson, where he made last year's more song-oriented Master of Disaster (New West). Recorded with the help of Muscle Shoals bassist David Hood and Dickinson's sons Cody and Luther--two-thirds of roots rockers the North Mississippi Allstars--the album artfully blends soulful southern grooves and Hiatt's picturesque storytelling, which has lost none of its precision or bite over 30-plus years. There are flashes of his charmingly barbed wit even on otherwise gentle musings like the twangy "Old School," the mournful title track, and the jazzy closer, "On the Corner." Dickinson's production is a bit dry, but that actually works to Hiatt's advantage, placing the emphasis squarely on his wizened voice. The songs don't shoot off sparks, but in its own subtle way Master of Disaster is the most musically and lyrically focused album Hiatt's released since Slow Turning in 1998. Last year the North Mississippi Allstars released their best album, Electric Blue Watermelon (ATO); they'll play their own set, then back Hiatt. Wed 6/5, 8:30 PM, House of Blues, 329 N. Dearborn, 312-923-2000 or 312-559-1212, sold out, 18+.

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