A sense of restless contentment circulates around the newest recordings of John Hiatt, Graham Parker and Randall Bramblett.
Admittedly, the geographical and, to an extent, stylistic groundings of all three differ. Hiatt is a native Indiana Hoosier whose songwriting regularly surrenders to rock 'n' roll jubilation. Parker came to view at the height of the British punk movement even though his often venomous songs embraced American pop and soul. Bramblett hails from the deep South, with a literary slant in his songs that remains as far-ranging as his multi-instrumental abilities.
But given how all three have been making records since the '70s, there is an unassuming and worldly character to these new albums. Yet the recordings almost lovingly allow a few restless twinges to color the music.
Hiatt embraces domestic tranquility as tightly as ever on The Open Road, although the record happily accelerates the guitar-rock accents. Haulin' even brings Kentucky into view as it details a romantic quest from Fort Smith to Louisville over a sleek Chuck Berry rhythm. The highlight, though, comes when Hiatt's heartland roots snap in Homeland. Here, three centuries of dark history as "heavy as death, cold as a broken stone" are underscored by even bleaker visions of suburban sprawl ("you can't bury anything; men or nations, old memories, old vibrations").
That's also the sort of wicked spin Parker has long used to set fire to his songs. Ever the social strategist, his new Invisible Television was triggered by original songs commissioned but ultimately rejected as TV themes. Ultimately, though, Invisible Television becomes a series of snapshots with Parker still the outsider looking in, be it through the modernist paranoia of Weather Report ("I just don't seem to get it, man, not even if I want to") or the glowing salvation he offers in 1st Responder. The latter harks back to the hopeful party soul of his '70s days with The Rumour and seals Invisible Television's sense of expert pop songcraft.
Bramblett's The Meantime is a real curveball: a sampler of 12 songs, some of which stem from his earliest recording days (Sacred Harmony being the most beautifully steadfast) designed for the contemplative grace of a piano trio. Blue Blue World sums up the album's understated but eloquent mood by seeking refuge from "a dark road washed with rain." Witness for Love would tip the scales to the sentimental were it not for the soulful, conversational reserve in Bramblett's playing and singing that molds the many moods of The Meantime into a welcoming Southern sanctuary.