John Hiatt Little Head Capitol CDEST 2296

While clearly in more jocular mood than on 1995's admirable but downbeat Walk On, John Hiatt relinquishes none of that set's essential quality on Little Head, which may be his most approachable record yet. The fun starts with the name of his latest band, the (all-male) Nashville Queens, and continues with the salacious title track, a self-depracatory look at male sexuality which finds him admitting "I'm just so easily led when a little head does the thinking" against a lusty swamp-funk throb studded with little guitar sneers.

For much of the time here, Hiatt may be dealing in fairly standard 40- something stadium raunch in best Springsteen tradition, but there's a cheeky cynicism about the album that undercuts the genre's rough-hewn manliness and rebel cliches. So instead of fantasies of freedom and flight, the college-educated couple in "Graduated" are simply stuck, "living out history, but dead to the world" when they find their careers and libidos suffering from "downsized appetites".

Balancing this gentle social sardonicism are love songs such as "My Sweet Girl" and "After All This Time" - as sincere as any you'll encounter all year - and good-time celebrations such as the punchy "Feelin' Again", plus a tranche of typically Hiattian glances at subjects as diverse as inveterate liars and the enduring appeal of the airwaves. Few other songwriters, it's safe to say, could cover quite so much ground in so much style in 10 songs.

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