Is a John Hiatt album ever less than good? Once the Indianapolis native found his voice with 1987's "Bring The Family", Hiatt has made continued to make confident, sometimes great records, filled with insightful lyrics. When things are working correctly, he adds a roots-rock sound that keeps one foot in Americana, one in rock and roll.
With his latest album, "The Open Road," Hiatt wades back into a sound similar to 1988's "Slow Turning" and 1993's "Perfectly Good Guitar", both highlights of his catalogue, and albums that gained him new fans. While this new record may not break any new ground, the music is loose-and-rough and will please his old friends, and it shines a light on his proudly off-kilter throaty vocals, teamed with songs and stories that keep your head listening for the next good line.
Hiatt, lest we ever forget, is known more for his songwriting - one of the best of the past two or three decades - than his own albums . Sure, he has written great songs for a list that includes Willie Nelson, Bob Dylan, and Bonnie Riatt. But I like his own sound. It's weathered. The Indiana boy (born in Broad Ripple, leaving at the age of 18 for Nashville) namechecks the Hoosier state in "Go Down Swingin'", a Petty-esque midtempo piece about resiliance. Hiatt sneaks in some blues with "Like A Freight Train", but not so heavily that he weighs down the record with the style. Instead, Hiatt uses the opportunity to stretch his vocal style.
"What Kind of Man" sounds like his biggest songwriting success ("Thing Called Love"), and anyone who sings about cigars and Pop-Tarts in the first line ("Wonder of Love") gets my ear.
No real surprises, and that's good. We don't need John Hiatt trying to be something he isn't. That was why his career faltered during it's first act. We need what we get: words that make sense and music that has served him well in the past. Hiatt doesn't make bad albums. This one is good, and this is another reminder of his gift.
John Hiatt - "The Open Road" - acoustic performance on Nashville radio