On March 27th, Lilly Hiatt released Walking Proof, a thoughtful, eleven-track album produced with former Cage the Elephant guitarist, Lincoln Parish. Hiatt’s album offers a refreshing perspective in a contemporary rock and country scene that often feels generic. Throughout Walking Proof, Hiatt—who grew up in Nashville—combines her gentle, country-inflected vocals with expansive guitar melodies and grunge riffs, ultimately creating a synthesis of rock and country that is both compelling and original.
The album opens with “Rae,” a contemplative record in which Hiatt reflects on her relationship with her sister Georgia Rae. The song’s opening verse is minimal—just a simple guitar riff and Hiatt’s vocals. The minimalism allows Hiatt’s voice room to breathe and space to establish the story. The song flows gently between these lean vocal-driven verses and guitar driven sections with steady drums. One particularly nice moment in the song occurs when Hiatt strips back the instrumentation and sings, “Nobody gets it like you do Rae,” before launching back into an energetic verse, “I put so much on you Rae / ‘Cuz nobody gets it like you do.” These moments of gentle juxtaposition, which occur throughout Walking Proof, are some of the finest production decisions on the album. The moments of contrast remind us that this album, as a whole, is like a musical diary: a look into a diversified collection of Hiatt’s personal experiences, combined with compelling melodies and rhythm.
Another song that follows a similar structure to “Rae” is “Candy Lunch,” which was for me undoubtedly the best lyrical song on the album. In “Candy Lunch” Hiatt opens with simple lyrics, “Sittin’ watching it rain / Hoping I’m going to be something.” The song expresses the aspirations of a veteran musician and songwriter, but it goes further. Hiatt expresses humility and self-awareness as she questions her own ego and desires for stardom (“It’s just like me / To think about what I want”), and talks of what it feels like to go to a friend’s show and sit in the audience: “Went to watch my friend play / Cruised the van down Broadway.” The perspective shifts throughout the song demonstrate Hiatt’s ability to see beyond her vantage point and consider the perspectives of others, as well as her place in her community. Ultimately, this capability is what I find most alluring about the album: Hiatt sings about her life, but she sings from a place of compassion and undecorated self-awareness. She doesn’t romanticize her life or put herself on a pedestal; Hiatt comes across as genuinely interested in sharing stories and earnestly relating her experiences. Examples of Hiatt’s honest, down-to-earth style can be found with “Some Kind of Drug” (an examination of gentrification in Nashville and its social effects) and “Walking Proof,” where Hiatt ponders the ruinous nature of constant touring in a surprisingly upbeat feeling tune. “Walking Proof” also has some nice fiddle sections that bring the record more conspicuously into the realm of folk and country.
Another one of my favorite songs on the album is “Brightest Star.” Like the previous songs, the verses are fairly stripped down—a guitar riff, steady drums, and Hiatt’s vocals. While the lyrics of the hook on the surface feel a bit clichéd, “the brightest star in my whole sky is you,” Hiatt makes up for it with interesting verses and an expressive vocal delivery. The guitar riffs on this song feel nostalgic and effectively supplement the vocals. Overall, the song feels anthemic, and functions as one of the best rock ‘n’ roll cuts on the album alongside “Never Play Guitar.”
If there is some area for improvement on the record, I saw that with “Little Believer.” I didn’t think this song stood up to the quality of the other songs on the record for numerous reasons. Its story felt muddled—from its opening account of a man fishing, a point about gentrification and “brand new buildings,” and an admission of mistakes in a personal relationship—Hiatt doesn’t connect the lyrical themes, and there are no clear associations for the listener to make. What’s more, the chorus, “I want to be your little believer,” feels underwhelming, and even deferential. It doesn’t feel like the independent vocal perspective we grow accustomed to across the album. Perhaps at best, we can take the hook as an ironic statement, though it doesn’t feel that way. Moreover, the repeated hook “I want to be your little believer” becomes grating as it repeats until crescendo for the final minute of the song. In general, this song exposes a small point of weakness of the album, which is that Hiatt’s vocal choruses don’t always stand up to the quality of the writing in the verses. As mentioned before, “Brightest Star” has lovely verses, but the chorus lyrics, “The brightest star in my whole sky is you,” feel trite. However, this is forgivable given there are many songs that have original and thoughtful lyrics in the chorus. Take for example, “Drawl,” in which Hiatt sings about a friend of hers, whom she hopes won’t change in spite of the adversity in their life. Hiatt sings in the chorus, “And I know you’ve lost your temper / I know you’ve lost some friends / Don’t you ever lose that drawl again.” This song is just one example of Hiatt’s proclivity for thoughtful lyrics. Another particularly well-written chorus appears in “Move,” a delicate, pedal-steel laced song.
Ultimately, Hiatt’s Walking Proof is an album that ages well with every listen. On the surface it is an entertaining folk and country-tinged contemporary rock album, but after a second or third pass, a listener begins to see the depth of Hiatt’s point of view and can begin to understand the nuance of her vocals. At its best, the album feels like the product of a lot contemplation, and it presents strong, original songs such as a “Rae” and “Candy Lunch.” Moreover, Hiatt’s voice, carries melodies in a unique way throughout. Overall, Hiatt and Parish do a fantastic job balancing the album’s lyrical and literary elements with pure music—guitar riffs, eloquent melodies, and delicate embellishments. Going forward, I hope Hiatt continues to lean into her country roots because that foundation feels like the genesis for many of her best songs on the album.
Written by Brennan White