With her third record, second generation alt-country performer Lilly Hiatt has offered up a career-defining album full of songwriting gems and inspired performances that is spirited to the heights of infectious listening by smart and considerate production. This personal and galvanized work finds the full realization of Lilly Hiatt’s vision, voice, and potential as a songwriter and performer, stepping out of the shadow of a famous name, forging her own sound and identity, and announcing her participation in discussions of who is worthy of praise in a new generation of emerging artists energized by rock and country in equal measures.
Where Lilly’s first record Let Down was decidedly lo-fi and country-inspired—cool, but maybe still searching for her own sound—and the elevated songwriting of 2015’s Royal Blue was hindered somewhat by the foolish dalliances of indie-rock synth and unnecessarily harsh and distorted tones, Hiatt’s new record Trinity Lane gets it all just about right. Produced by Michael Trent of Shovel & Rope, it fearlessly imbibes in everything that is cool about alt-country, including much of the swagger that has been lost in the subgenre’s incorporation into Americana in recent years, while providing just enough country to keep a shit kicker keen.
The listening experience is defined by Lilly’s twangy vocals, delivered with confidence and attitude, even when singing about powerfully emotional heartbreak and turmoil. The emotion is heard, not implied, as she delves into capturing depressing moods on wax in what is very much a breakup record. Though we may never wish emotional calamity to befall our fondest music performers—and certainly many musicians over the years have proven tough times are not always a prerequisite for inspired art—it sure doesn’t hurt when tears and pain are powerfully conjured in lyrical phrases, with melodies and riffs exquisitely matched to the emotions in smart and powerful composition.
The tear-drenched nature of Lilly’s voice mixed with the swaying beat on the opening song “All Kinds Of People” is ideal for stirring emotion, while the half-time register in the chorus of the title track gives rise to the rawness and honesty in the songwriting.
A couple of moments come across a bit awkward on the record, like rhyming “home” with “home” on “I Wanna Go Home,” or the way the lyrics are scrunched into the payoff of “Different, I Guess,” even though it’s otherwise a great, heartbreaking country song, as is the forlorn steel guitar and snare brushes of “Imposter.”
Trinity Lane is not just a record for people who like music, but for those dedicated acolytes of the art form who would travel two states over for a festival, or fork out money to buy their favorite artist’s new record on vinyl the day of release. Whether it’s incorporating the time stamp of the day David Bowie died in an alt-country song, or one of Trinity Lane‘s standout songs called “Records,” this particular work doesn’t just speak to what it’s like to have your heart broken, it speaks to having music help you through those moments, and how it can act as the backdrop to certain memories.
Trinity Lane is named for the specific street where Lilly Hiatt resides. But beyond the emotional breakup that inspired this record, it also reminds the true music fan what a place apart music can be for the troubles of the mind and heart—where it can create intimate landscapes inside each of us to escape to. There is us, and then there is us when we are lost in those moments all to ourselves that only the best music can provide—music like the stuff found on Lilly Hiatt’s Trinity Lane.
1 3/4 Guns Up (8/10)
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