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CDs by John Hiatt, Sit n' Spin and Aaron Neville

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John Hiatt, "Crossing Muddy Waters," (Vanguard) — Hiatt's latest veers off the rock 'n' roll path into the fertile acoustic fields of country blues, jug band and gospel. The results are unflinchingly intense and raw. Hiatt has always been known as a soulful artist but on "Crossing" he's particularly urgent and reflective as he rolls through these 11 self-penned tunes. The themes are often dark as Haitt deals with the failure of intimacy and the empty spaces in life, but he never wallows in despair, and the loose quality that he injects into each song keeps the mood upbeat. Hiatt also takes some chances lyrically and gets pretty obscure at times, but he makes it work in his own rough-and-tumble style. Recorded in three days at a home studio near his Tennessee home, "Crossing" has a home-grown, bluesy quality that's unlike most of Hiatt's previous work. The sparse, acoustic arrangements allow him to get closer to the listener, and through his tales of jealousy, greed and death, the artist lays bare a complicated heart. These tunes demand attention but the effort is well worth the time. — Ames Arnold Sit n' Spin, "Enjoy The Ride," (Headhunter/Cargo Music) — Like Josie & The Pussycats with a fire lit beneath their hotpants, the all-girl group Sit n' Spin comes roaring out of their New Brunswick, N. J. locale determined to rock as much as the boys do. The band was founded by singer/guitarist Heidi Lieb, along with a fellow college radio DJ (hence the name Sit n' Spin), in an attempt to not just spin the music they enjoyed over the airwaves, but to have a hand in making that music as well. Once the lineup gelled, thanks to the addition of band members nicknamed Mimi, Mony and Poot, the process of writing pop-tinged garage tunes began in earnest. The musical results seem to come close to being a rockabilly (almost Crampslike) version of The Ramones with female vocals. The album's songs are short bursts of high-octane punky energy while lyrically these gals are boy-crazy, as best illustrated in the catchy "Hey Boy" and "I Like Your Boyfriend." They even show us a glimpse of their kinder, gentler side with the sweet lullaby "Just Can1t Go To Sleep." The song "Wolfgang" even tells the story of being head-over-heels for a guy who turns into a werewolf when the moon is full, but don't worry, Sit n' Spin can handle him. — Angelo DeFranzo Aaron Neville, "Devotion," (Tell It) — With this project, Neville finally realizes his goal to record a gospel album and how much you like it will depend on your personal threshold for religious messages. But regardless of the nature of the message, Neville's one-of-a-kind angelic falsetto fits the genre perfectly, and he's in fine voice. He also infuses each tune with a joy and honesty that assures the listener that he's not just recording this so he can rake in a few bucks from the gospel fans out there. Of course, he's sure to do that in any event, because there is much here for gospel lovers to enjoy. Arrangements are lush yet subdued, and there are gorgeous backup choirs to highlight Neville's voice. He also includes his son Ivan in "Singing You A Prayer." He also takes Paul Simon's "Bridge Over Troubled Waters" and Bob Dylan's "I Shall Be Released" to church. It's kind of nice to hear Neville sing something other than the syrupy love songs he often cuts these days, but give me the New Orleans rhythm-and-blues groove of "Over You" or "Waiting at the Station" any day. — Ames Arnold

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