Yet another strong set of songs from John Hiatt, one of music’s survivors both physically and creatively —The Open Road offers arguably his most pure and edgy music in some time.
Aided by his road band of Kenny Blevins (drums), Patrick O’Hearn (bass) and Doug Lancio (electric guitar) all eleven tracks are new and with the likes of ‘Like A Freight Train’ imbued with rich, dusky flavours of the American South coupled with the hedonism of such rousing fare as the blues rocking ‘My Baby’ (that fires the passion in his voice and lyrics like nobody’s business) and rubber burning classic early rock‘n’roll sounding ‘Hauling’ Hiatt and the boys are in great form. This is Hiatt at his best; lyrically and instrumentally as he kicks down a few doors and gets to press one’s buttons —the latter with its simple, effective, 1950s rhythm he cranks it up like only he can as the innocence of youth is captured and the lid stamped down tight. With a voice that barks out the lyrics blue collar style, Hiatt is one of music’s greats and, like a good many of my heroes he inevitably sounds at his best when supported by a lean, keen and stripped down set of musicians.
The cast of personnel used totals just four (and sound like more) with those noted above plus himself who, produced the record playing acoustic, electric guitar and vocals. Recorded in a converted garage during the summer of last year Hiatt gained the inspiration for the album looking through the rear view mirror of life.
On utilising some splendid guitar grooves Hiatt speaks of the country of his birth on ‘Homeland’ and, with his tones possessing a pleading edge the listener can’t ignore him as he ploughs his furrow aided by some guitar riffs akin to the pioneering slick instrumental pop groups of the 1960s. For anyone who enjoys great electric lead guitar music of a full-bodied but tempered nature there is little need to look any farther. ‘What Kind Of Man’ takes few prisoners as he cranks it up and moves over to rock‘n’roll to ignite the flame of love and his passion to set the cornfield ablaze.
As for the mellow, river dredging of the soul he edges relatively slowly through ‘Fireball Roberts’ —that speaks of his love of feeling the road beneath him as he drives his 57 Ford and of how it compares to his love it spits and crackles without ever erupting into flames. Slightly keener and sparked with energy we have the reflective ‘Go Down Swingin’ —then with him looking at the lives close to him and have passed on ‘Movin’ On’ smoulders and evokes imagery of precious days kept on tap in his memory bank.
When it comes to the title track John goes down to the deep south for ‘The Open Road’ and never looks back, and with solid all-round musicianship, harmony vocals it has all that is required to utilise his foot-loose and rambling lyrics in the best possible way. Another to impress greatly is the restless, lead guitar fired ‘What Kind Of Man’ —containing the lyrics ‘I cheated on my love / I cheated on my taxes’ followed by ‘What kind of man do you think I am, babe/ One twist and I would do it all over again’. When it comes to writing songs about cars, women, true-life emotions and a burning desire of the road Hiatt is forever at the front of the grid.
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