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. Hiatt's voice and sneaky but literate lyrical style are also a fine match for Lancio's guitar work, full of sliding figures and well-punctuated string bends, and the steady, rock-solid roll of the rhythm section pushes the songs along without forcing them to move faster or harder then they want. And as a songwriter, Hiatt remains one of the best craftsmen in his field; if he doesn't sound inspired as often as he once did on albums like Bring the Family and Slow Turning, the tunes remain slinky and evocative and his stories of men either succumbing to or trying to overcome their lesser instincts still bear the ring of truth and never sound rote. John Hiatt's muse hasn't stopped keeping him on task, and the work he's doing remains satisfying, and anyone who can crank out an album as good as The Open Road every 18 months or so would be well advised to keep up the good work.
The Open Road Review
by Mark Deming