His "Bring the Family" was named one of the best albums of 1987. He was named Best Male Vocalist in a Rolling Stone critics poll. His songs have been recorded by everyone from Bob Dylan to Rick Nelson.

So how come more people haven't heard of John Hiatt?Too bad 'cause those folks are missing one of the finest treats in contemporary music; the Indiana-born John Hiatt is an American treasure. He's a singer-songwriter (600 songs to his credit so far) who just can't be categorized, though the closest pigeonhole is "a populist folk singer with a rock 'n' roll edge."

He's a little bit John Mellencamp and a little bit Woody Guthrie. He's a little John Prine and a little Bob Dylan. He's . . . well, he's John Hiatt, and if you haven't treated yourself to Hiatt's music before, "Slow Turning" (his ninth album) is a fine introduction.

These aren't pop ditties to make you dance or sing along to. They are story songs about people, some of them down on their luck and some with no place to go and some with dreams they might never realize.

If life has an underbelly to scratch, Hiatt scratches it. And Hiatt is as good as the come at doing it.

The stories are told in Hiatt's gravelly voice that is both urgent and endearing. As on the brilliant "Sometime Other Than Now" and the desperate "Drive South." They are songs with an edge that gets under your skin.

If you thought today's music was lacking in depth and meaning and that only Springsteen and Mellencamp carried the torch of socially relevant folk-rock, then you've never listened to John Hiatt.

And there's no better place to start than "Slow Turning."