Various Artists, “Love Gets Strange--The Songs of John Hiatt”; <i> Rhino</i>

It’s hard to argue that John Hiatt’s songs need great vocalists to bring out the best in them. This compilation of cover versions doesn’t especially bring out nuances that Hiatt missed in his own recordings. What it does show more clearly than Hiatt’s renditions is the remarkable range of his skill as a songwriter.

There’s the Southern R & B flavor that emerges in the Neville Bros.’ version of “Washable Ink” and Johnny Adams’ dripping-with-irony rendition of “She Said the Same Things to Me.” There’s the country heartache of Katy Moffatt’s “We Ran” and Rodney Crowell’s treatment of “She Loves the Jerk.” Then there’s the Spec tor-esque pop sheen of Marshall Crenshaw’s “Someplace Where Love Can’t Find Me,” one of several songs here that Hiatt has not included on his own albums, and Nick Lowe’s version of “Drive South” (a song also recorded by the Desert Rose Band). And there’s the hard-rock drive of “Confidence Man,” covered here by the Jeff Healey Band.

For the record:

12:00 AM, Oct. 07, 1993 New Pick of the Week
Los Angeles Times Thursday October 7, 1993 Orange County Edition OC Live! Page 5 OC Live Desk 1 inches; 23 words Type of Material: Correction; Column
Kelly Willis--not Nick Lowe, as we reported--sings “Drive South” on last week’s New Pick, the compilation album “Love Gets Strange--The Songs of John Hiatt.”

The real gems are those songs previously unrecorded by Hiatt, such as the title tune (given a typically off-kilter reading by Don Dixon) and “I’ll Never Get Over You” (in a heartbreaking version by Jo-El Sonnier). Emmylou Harris turns in the one rendition of a Hiatt song that actually does top the composer’s own, “Icy Blue Heart,” adding a chord change and a vocal leap in the chorus that threatens to leave the listener thoroughly wrung out. One could gripe that the Everly Bros.’ version of “‘Any Single Solitary Heart” is more powerful than the Kris McCay recording included here, or that Bonnie Raitt’s hit treatment of “Thing Called Love” is missing (though Hiatt’s own still remains far superior). But with artists such as Rosanne Cash, John Doe and Dave Edmunds as well as those mentioned, you know this truly is a tribute to a “songwriter’s songwriter.”