The back jacket of Jefferson Hart’s new album, Corolla Ponies in the Snow, depicts two horses trudging over soggy ground, their heads and shoulders slumped. It’s as though the lonely redundancy and emptiness of their days have finally begun to weigh on them. This tensionbetween moving past despair and getting lost in its reflecting poolsresonates across Corolla Ponies, a record where regret and disappointment linger forever in the shadows.

The album’s emotional twilightHart takes care not to go as far as darknessis most apparent on tracks like the painfully wistful “Tale of a Love Gone South” and “This Year Things Are Gonna Be Different,” where Hart hopes the time he “may know the difference between living in love and wrecking it all” is coming soon. “I Feel Good About Us” uses a minor-key melody and mantra-like chorus to undermine the reliability of the narrator’s hopefulness.

Hart’s made music for a quarter-century now in a variety of bands, both covering Neil Young and charging his own roots-rock. As such, his playing shines in veteran ways, whether he’s delivering a searing solo above the power-pop charm of “Swinging on a Scar” or a taking a ragged turn through T. Rex territory on “I Ain’t Henpecked (I Just Have Chicken House Ways).” That experience lets him make the music suggestive and ambivalent. Even less defeated tunes like “Don’t Know What To Do With Myself” and “Somebody’s Buttercup” move about with the same bewildered unease as Bill Murray in Lost In Translation. But the music cuts briskly in the other direction, with ringing guitars echoing memories of better times. Hart’s lyrics reflect this duality, lingering on bittersweet nostalgia even as the walls tumble in.

Ponies’ folk, roots and bar-rock blend suggests the countrified canniness of late-model Nick Lowe or Tom Petty’s classic American rock. It’s not a happy album, but it’s not a self-pitying one, either. It’s simply an older, wiser Hart, happy to have ridden at least some of the rides.

Label: Bombay Records