An album needs to be more than merely loud to "rock," and that's why "Beneath This Gruff Exterior" fails. There is a whole lot of hooting and hollering going on but very little substance. If I want to hear a sound like "Uncommon Connection," all I have to do is go sit by the railroad tracks for a while and wait for the next freight train to pass through. Just as you can almost palate the song's manic banging, shuffling and spitting, it blasts away in a storm of dust and chaos. Hiatt and the Goners blast through these songs like bullets through a cake. At best, this is a collection of demos; at worst, it should have been kept in the vault Hiatt dug it out of. The general weakness of the album makes more distinctive songs such as "My Baby Blue" sound like tossed-off singles rather than the great songs Hiatt has delivered in such abundance over the years. I really think it's time for Hiatt to sever his ties with producer Don Smith, who seems hell-bent on overcooking every Hiatt project that runs through his fingers. "Walk On," Smith's 1995 production with Hiatt, suffers from the same lack of discipline. Albums like "Beneath This Gruff Exterior" really make a fan thankful for the rawer glories of "Crossing Muddy Waters" or "Bring the Family." One can only hope that this album's gorgeous coda, "The Most Unoriginal Sin," is a foreshadowing of things to come from Hiatt, still one of the most authentic performers in the world today.