You'd think Angie Heaton's music would have more of a flannel-shirted, mud-in-yer-boots redolence to it, considering the names of her former bands: Corndolly, Liquorette, Tractor Kings. Hoping to toss some twang in your bottom, you'd hunt down her third solo album, Let It Ride, at the local record store and bemoan its placement in the "Rock/Pop" section. "People shouldn't be afraid to file records under 'Country'!" you'd mumble to yourself, opting not to bring up such a flagrant mis-file to the clerk so you can rush home to get your Lucinda on.
You wouldn't necessarily be shocked by the sound of Let It Ride once you put it on the stereo; as music goes, it's quite ordinary. But it ain't no Loretta Lynn, Jack -- heck, Heaton doesn't even sound like Garrison Starr. In fact, it's Liz Phair that Heaton's voice bears an uncanny resemblance to (minor pitch problems and all), even if their subject matter of choice is light years apart. That's about where comparisons to artists of note ends, for Heaton's songs are tepid and inconspicuous. Makes you wonder if by Let It Ride she meant "put it in neutral and let it coast downhill".
While it almost squeaks by unnoticed on a set of inoffensive tunes, Let It Ride is marred by a few consistent problems. Firstly, Heaton's songs lack originality and character; one mid-tempo strummer flows into a slightly faster jangler, and so forth. Heaton will occasionally come through with a surprising line here and there ("She's OK 'cause she said that she loved Nick Cave almost as much as she loves Elvis", from the title track), but most of her writing is your run-of-the-mill, Songcraft 101 fare. She can be downright sappy ("Teach me the song in your heart / So I can sing it back to you when things get hard"), ridiculous ("I want to reach inside and touch your soul"), and more often than not gets average results from her attempts to twist lyrical conventions ("Be still my breaking heart").
Secondly, the album's latter half is nearly brought to a standstill by the glacier pace of its songs, starting with the six-minute "Moth Vs. Flame/(Bandita)". Despite the ho-hum quality of her tunes, Heaton at least maintains a balanced flow throughout the first six, enhanced by lots of skittering guitar arpeggios. Let It Ride's slow descent could very well be its deathblow, for it prolongs and accentuates Heaton's weaknesses under a patient microscope.
What Let It Ride begs for is some warm, organic production. Unfortunately, many of the instruments sound programmed and clinical: most notably, the drums in "It's Easier When You're Here" and "Teach Me", and the horridly synthetic handclaps in the title track. A natural recording environment could do wonders for Heaton's homey pop; whether issues of finance or experience prevented such a scenario, it's a damn shame all around. Let It Ride is therefore a lo-fi record, but it's not the charming strand of lo-fi where the limitations of sound are used as a tool. Instead, the album is lo-fi emulating the glaze of a buff, big-budget recording. It ends up sounding too processed and underdeveloped, a victim of stale resources.
Even the closing track, a curiously picked cover of Cheap Trick's "Downed", doesn't rock like it feels it should. It sounds like Heaton's trying to put the pedal to the floor, but this big lug of a record has already been pushed to its low-threshold brink. And that's too bad, because while you could have gotten over Let It Ride's lack of roots rock, you can't really overcome its lack of drive.