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John Hiatt hits the “Road”—and a bull’s eye—with new disc

Mike Cote //March 26, 2010//

John Hiatt hits the “Road”—and a bull’s eye—with new disc

Mike Cote //March 26, 2010//

JOHN HIATT The Open Road (New West)


John Hiatt is one of those national treasures who continues to live somewhere below the radar despite having written a long string of pop hits. Trouble is, with the rare exception of a song or two cracking the Top 40, usually it’s been someone else singing them, including Three Dog Night (“Sure as I’m Sitting Here”), Bonnie Raitt (“Thing Called Love”) and B.B. King and Eric Clapton (“Riding With the King”).

The Open Road probably won’t change that, even if it stands tall among Hiatt’s recent albums. On this tight collection of 11 songs, Hiatt keeps the sound simple and stark, must a couple of guitars, bass and drums and that scratchy voice of his that carries the hard-won wisdom of songs. Now in his late ’50s, Hiatt sings about facing up to age (“Movin’ On”) and carrying the torch for love (“Wonder of Love”). But there’s also lighthearted fare like “Haulin'”, a song with the kind of punch of Hiatt’s classic “Memphis in the Meantime.”

All familiar territory for Hiatt and his fans, but tracks like the title cut and leadoff track — driven by the brand of distorted electric guitar that recalls Neil Young and Crazy Horse – makes the Indiana native of great highway companion, someone who always carries a bit of hope with him even if he’s traveling light. On “Go Down Swingin’, (which recalls a Tom Petty song from a decade ago with a similar theme), Hiatt captures the range of emotions we all wrestle with, from confident swagger to the kind of anxiety that leads us to run for cover.

In the bluesy “Like a Freight Train,” Hiatt recalls past glories as the loping beat suggests someone who’s adjusted his pace for the long haul. “FireBall Roberts” travels along a similar rootsy terrain.

The album ends on a high note with the romantic “Carry You Back Home,” with Hiatt’s voice reaching into a falsetto we didn’t know he had in him. It’s the kind of song about enduring love that keeps making us believe.

John Hiatt returns to Colorado this summer for performances Aug. 13 at the Arvada Center for the Performing Arts and Aug. 14 at Chautauqua Auditorium in Boulder — both with Los Lobos also on the bill. Both venues just announced their summer concert lineup.

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