I must confess that I slept on Lilly Hiatt and her Trinity Lane LP when the album first arrived in my office. Regrettably, there was no good reason for it; given the timing of when it arrived, the album just kept getting shuffled under one thing after another. I did not give it the attention that it deserved, and it was only very recently – when I finally threw the album on my turntable (on a whim) – that I realized how shortsighted I had been. Turns out, the Trinity Lane LP is actually a formidable creation.
The music itself inhabits a space which straddles the lines between moody rock, classic country and wind-swept, dusty soul but lands to the left of alt-country and the singer’s voice rings through as pitch perfect, pristine and angelic – which makes it feel all the more visceral when she kicks listeners with a choice four-letter word. That said, some fashion-conscious critic will likely call Trinity Lane something like “trailer park alt-country” because, yes, there is a turn in the music which keeps the album from falling under the conventional ‘country’ label – but there is a hypnotizing X-factor about this music which keeps it from fitting easily under ANY header. It is truly something which needs to be heard in order to be understood or believed.
…And then, the moment “All Kinds Of People” strides out to open Trinity Lane‘s A-side, Hiatt commits herself to making as many believers as possible. Right off, the singer’s voice calls to mind elements of Ani DiFranco and Neko Case as her voice flows effortlessly over a chord progression which fits perfectly into the mould which casts timeless country ballads (lines like “Spend a lot of time loving all kinds of people/ But all kinds of people won’t care for your heart/ I love you like you love the ocean, and that’s where you’re going/ And it’s ripped me apart” tell that story), but the winsome and hurt tone in Hiatt’s voice states that there is obviously more at work here than JUST classic country histrionics. Rather, it’s easy to pull out inspirations in Hiatt’s performance here which likely began to germinate from the singer appreciating artists who once performed during the days of Lilith Fair – there is delicacy and care clearly put in here, but the singer is wise not to treat her muse too preciously, which makes the music instantly accessible.
After “All Kinds Of People” sets the stage and precedents for the A-side of Trinity Lane, the stakes get upped pretty perfectly as the second song of the side opens with the words, “I wanted to call you the night David Bowie died/ But I just sat in my room and cried” before digging deeply into a tale of love lost and hearts broken which is deeply affecting and more powerful than one who has simply never heard the song can imagine. How’s it done? Simply said, Hiatt crosses the candor of those aforementioned confessions with some transferred resentment and dissatisfaction. Sseriously – listeners will be able to hear all of that in the way lines like “I’m sorry I was such a bitch that night in the city” are delivered. And she ends up with a perfectly flawed and human presentation which doesn’t quite bend so far as to be unbelievably cynical or overly cathartic, but balances between the two and thereby ensures that listeners can take such emotional outpourings whichever way works best for them.
In this case, the appeal isn’t with the fact that Lilly Hiatt has been done wrong but is still focused on coming out on top, it’s more like the character in the song could fall either way and listeners can decide on their own what they’d like to believe and how they want it to go. Many singers go their entire careers without being able to achieve such a perfect understanding with their audience and it’s remarkable to hear how it comes through here.
Obviously, “The Night David Bowie Died” sets another precedent for Trinity Lane and, after that, Lilly Hiatt works hard to achieve the same heights again, with really strong results. While the title track softens up a bit because the singer has elected to play a little too vacant and “rocky,” the crushed feeling laments of both “Everything I Had” and “I Wanna Go Home” both sternly and angrily put those lovers who’ve done Hiatt wrong in their place as well as seeing the singer chastise herself a bit for letting those characters get so close.
When the side finally winds to a close with the more stoic (but no less critical) train rhythm of “Imposter,” listeners will see that there is no end of Hiatt’s hurt in sight (she says it herself though lines like, “I could try and make it better, I could pray it won’t get worse/ I could wish you would forget her, I could hope you’ll break this curse”) but also recognize that the singer is still hard and tight enough in her lessons learned that she doesn’t appear to be in any danger of coming undone or falling apart. In its own way, that catharsis is fantastic and the presentation of it here is so engaging that listeners who go through the A-side are guaranteed to flip the record over too.
On the B-side, listeners will find Hiatt is indeed capable of rocking out in the right circumstance as “Records” opens the going just the right way and sees the singer tripping through memories of missed opportunities and reminiscing about Neil Young records, heartbroken. It’s a down but strong enough start. Here, Hiatt angles in the direction of the great and lovelorn rock bards and easily wins hearts the exact same way as those singers do with lines like, “I’m thirty-two, feel twenty-three/Got no husband next to me/ They just want my rock n’ roll/ Scream out my lungs and burn real slow” – with articulate, knee-buckling candor and an instrumental arrangement which just could probably be denied, but no listener would dream of it in the moment.
After that, Hiatt takes a more deliberate and methodical turn toward straight-out country (although, again, with a couple of well-placed four-letter words included to petrify the purists) but keeps that aforementioned heartbroken lyrical bent in place just to prove that lightning can indeed strike twice in the same place before taunting listeners a little with the string-adorned ballad that cutely bears the title “Sucker” and then chastising a would-be suitor clearly with “So Much You Don’t Know About Me.”
At every turn in those two instances, listeners will find themselves hanging on the singer’s every word as she tips several of Country Music’s sacred tenets really just to prove she has the will and the talent to do it; through both, Hiatt proves easily that her lyrical and songwriting chops have been well-honed (even when she confesses that her favorite record is Purple Rain), and she smoothly and easily commands listeners’ collective attention no matter which the direction in which she chooses to turn. It’s unbelievable to hear it play out here, and even more so when one considers that Trinity Lane is only the singer’s third album.
Once again, perhaps just to prove she’s capable of the feat, Lilly Hiatt successfully manages to turn the time-honored country tradition of closing her album with a song about undying love on its ear with finger-wavin’ farewell which is “”See Ya Later.” There, Lilly Hiatt manages to balance a mid-tempo number which (at least on the surface) clearly seeks to drag its heels for a bit of effect with a lyric sheet which openly expresses disdain for a spurned lover (lines like “Now I’m kicking at the concrete/ Wishing you would get me/ But that thinking never got me very far/ So I’ll do us both a favor/ I’ll catch up with ya later/ It’s better if I don’t know where ya are” about say it all) – the obvious quality of craft is brilliant and will have listeners sold on repeat trips through the entirety of the album’s running, if they weren’t already.
Standing back and taking the album as a whole, there’s no doubt that those who run the length of Trinity Lane will have been completely won by the album – I certainly was and instantly felt unbelievably guilty that I wouldn’t be able to put the album in a proper place on my list of the best albums of 2017. It definitely deserves to be there but, of course, that ship has sailed. That said, the best this critic can do is confess that he utterly missed his mark, beg the singer’s forgiveness for his error and promise he’ll never miss his opportunity to lay undying praise for future releases at the singer’s feet. Trinity Lane is absolutely phenomenal and holds on it the emergence of an incredible talent.
(New West Records)