Release Date: Mar 2, 2010
Record label: New West
Genre(s): Rock, Country
Indiana-born John Hiatt is an unlikely but enthusiastic champion of the Midwestern work ethic -- he's been making records since 1974, but 2010's The Open Road is his sixth studio effort since the dawn of the new millennium, and it sounds like the work of a man who isn't about to stop doing this work anytime soon. Like 2008's Same Old Man, The Open Road was recorded at Hiatt's home studio, and while he and his road band (Doug Lancio on guitar, Patrick O'Hearn on bass, and Kenny Blevins on drums) conjure up a lean, soulful groove on these sessions, the mood is easygoing and almost casual, which easily suits the bluesy tone of these songs. Time keeps adding a little more grit to Hiatt's voice with each passing year, and he's smart enough to use it in his favor, with the sandy texture of his instrument adding weight and gravity to tunes like "Like a Freight Train" (in which he's bad enough to steal his mom's morphine), "Haulin'" (a road tune that plays like a Dixie-fried Chuck Berry variant), and "What Kind of Man" (another tale of a morally dubious character with shady habits), though the vocals are also a bit lower in the mix than usual this time out.
The last we heard from John Hiatt, he was singing “Let’s Give Love a Try”, the final tune from 2008’s Same Old Man. On that song, Hiatt admitted, “Sometimes I don’t like being where I am”, a notion that Hiatt has explored for much of his going-on-40-year career as a singer-songwriter. Calling himself “old” (sort of) in the title of that record marked a transition of sorts for a rascal like Hiatt, who was 55 when Same Old Man was released.
A worn-out road On first listen, John Hiatt’s 19th studio album sounds like the rallying cry of an American absconder, all fugitive lead-footing and Mardi Gras beads hanging from rearview mirrors. But in the end, the characters of the Indianapolis-born songwriter’s country-blues ballads are happiest when they have someone to settle down with, even if they have a hard time staying put. “I got down on my knees last night and I thanked someone / for the chance for two people to try and live together and not roam,” Hiatt sings just before his woman leaves him in “Wonder Of Love.” Hiatt puts these thoughts to paper in his signature cerebral style, but it isn’t enough to make these played-out themes feel fresh.