John Hiatt has been roots rocking long enough that it bears remembering his folk/pop beginnings in the early '70s and his tough/tender new wave angle into the '80s. But like any decent gunslinger, Hiatt never forgets how many bullets he has left and his chambers are full on the 19th studio album of his storied career.
2008's "Same Old Man," was a gently quirky acoustic/electric combination of Hiatt's highly personal, oddly structured material and his more traditional, infinitely coverable songs, all with a back-porch-blues feel. On "The Open Road," Hiatt charts a more expansive course, returning to the chunkier, funkier rock rhythms of "Slow Turning" and "Bring the Family," with guitarist Doug Lancio approximating the slide and snap of Sonny Landreth and Ry Cooder, the palpable presences on those two seminal Hiatt albums. The title track features Lancio's Crazy Horse guitar squall as Hiatt's craggy vocal evokes redemption or escape with the visceral, breakneck intensity of Warren Zevon's best work.
What follows is a sonic scrapbook of Hiatt's career path - his Tex Mex-flavored try at a Red Sovine truck driving song (Haulin'), his classic roots pop balladeering ("Go Down Swingin') and blues that is swingingly smart (Like a Freight Train) and dirty and steamy (My Baby). Then there's What Kind of Man, a sinewy shuffle bubbling to a slow boil between Lancio's guitar pyrotechnics and the flawlessly funky bottom of bassist Patrick O'Hearn and drummer Kenneth Blevins.
Clearly, Hiatt's status as a songwriter's songwriter - providing cover material for Bonnie Raitt, Rosanne Cash, Bob Dylan and others who have topped the charts with his songs - frees him to make albums like "The Open Road," personally satisfying works that are a joy for steadfast Hiatt fans who have followed every phase with knowing nods and sly smiles.