Lilly Hiatt: Royal Blue

Videos by American Songwriter

Videos by American Songwriter

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Lilly Hiatt
Royal Blue
(Normaltown)
2.5 out of 5

Like its dim, blurry cover art, Lilly Hiatt’s sophomore album is a shadowy, fuzzy set that occasionally shimmers but is just as often murky. John’s daughter abandons the simple singer-songwriter vibe of her debut, preferring to mesh a late ’80s synth approach with country, folk, and Americana all smothered with helpings of indie rock … so far, so good. But the problems start with the middling material, much of it similar sounding, that seldom finds its footing amid pedal steel, atmospheric guitars and thumping drums buried in the mix. Add Hiatt’s pleasant if detached, somewhat plain vanilla vocals and the result is an album with some good ideas that never rise to the surface.

Sporadically songs show glimpses of what could have been if producer Adam Landry applied a lighter, less stylized touch. The country rocking “Somebody’s Daughter” has a bit of spunk and the peppy “Machine” lets Hiatt’s natural swagger poke through the fog that envelops, and just about sinks, everything here. The cheap sounding loops on the witty “I Don’t Do Those Things Anymore” tries to emulate the Cars but is more like watered down Flock of Seagulls. Even the stripped back acoustic “Your Choice” that should show Hiatt at her best, crosses the line from sweet to bland. The closing title track however is a lovely, mournful ballad whose dreamy production adds to the mood of the melancholy, bluesy tune.

Since the majority of the tunes reflect the downside of love, the muddy sound does successfully coat these tracks in a weatherworn overcoat that supports the largely unhappy outlook. But despite a few highlights and Hiatt’s creative lyrics, there just aren’t enough moments that transcend the overall gloomy vibe to inspire most listeners to return and unearth the diamonds lurking underneath the heavy layers of coal dust.

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