Is a John Hiatt album ever less than good? Since the Indianapolis native found his voice with 1987's Bring The Family
, he's continued to make confident, sometimes great records, filled with insightful lyrics, indebted to both Americana and old-fashioned 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 catalog, and albums that gained him new fans. This new one may not break new ground, but the music is loose, rough and will please his old friends. His proudly off-kilter, throaty vocals are in the forefront, teamed with songs and stories that keep you intellectually engaged.
Hiatt, lest we ever forget, is known more for his songwriting than his own albums, and he's been one of the best in Nashville for the past two or three decades. He's written great songs for a list that includes Willie Nelson, Bob Dylan and Bonnie Raitt. But I like the way he performs his own stuff. The Indiana boy (born in Broad Ripple, left at age of 18 for Nashville) namechecks his homestate in "Go Down Swingin'", a Petty-esque midtempo piece on the theme of resilience.
Hiatt sneaks in some blues with "Like A Freight Train", using the form as an opportunity to stretch his vocal style. "What Kind of Man" recalls like his biggest songwriting success ("Thing Called Love"). Anyone who sings about cigars and Pop-Tarts in the first line, as Hiatt does on "Wonder of Love," gets my ear.