Lilly Hiatt‘s Lately was birthed out of the collective cultural trauma of the pandemic and how the isolative forces at play in this period of social disjunction brought our fragility into relief. Some of us binged on Netflix, food, social media, or various other distractions. Lilly Hiatt wrote songs. In a letter composed to accompany the album release, Hiatt spoke to the toughness of the last year where, as she put it, “loneliness was a way of life”. She continues, “I have always felt lonely, but never gone to the depths of solitude that I had in 2020.”
Lilly Hiatt rode the depths of her solitude and wrote songs, ten of which make up Lately, a beautiful, compelling witness to the power of human connection in its fragility, vulnerability, and ephemeral beauty. Except for “The Last Tear”, which closes the album, each song has a one-word title, a nod to how HIatt’s spare songwriting can tap the depths of human experience.
The album opens with “Simple”, a seemingly straightforward country ballad punctuated with pedal steel guitar. In it, Hiatt reflects on the mundane beauty of everyday connection; a lesson post-quarantine reunions taught many of us. It is a grateful celebration of the beauty of each day without being overly sentimental. “I can’t watermark the memory / It changes with the moon” speaks to the fleeting beauty that calls for our attentiveness but is never controlled by our wishes.
The theme shifts in the blues-tinged follow-up, “Been”. The song hints at a residency in the “darkroom” of depression and angst that often give birth to our most profound truths and the mysteries we carry (“But you don’t know where I been”). Like much of the album, it’s a snapshot of the fragile interplay of human connection with its attendant beauty and danger. “Lately” greets the listener with a dreamy 1980s pop sensibility that reminds one of Tracy Ullman’s “They Don’t Know” as it pulls the listener into the vertigo of passion and desire.
Co-produced by Lilly Hiatt and the band’s drummer, Kate Haldrup, Lately moves effortlessly between straightforward country, blues, acoustic rockers, dreamy pop, and “Cosmic American Music”, especially as interpreted by Emmylou Harris. The interplay between Hiatt’s honest, poetic songwriting and the versatile musical styles is a primary strength of the album. Along with Hiatt on vocals and guitar and Haldrup on drums, the band—Mike LoPinto on guitar, Robert Hudson on bass, Micah Hulscher on keys, Steve Hinson on pedal steel, and Coley Hinson, who adds guitars on “Peach” and “The Last Tear”—sound incredible throughout the record. The production and the mix help make the album an immersive sonic experience.
Following the rock riffs of “Gem”, the album closes with the first song she wrote for this project, “The Last Tear”. It’s a dreamy slice of Americana music touching on the discoveries we often make in the give and take of our intimate connections. In the liminal space of hurt and forgiveness is an ode to the inescapable fragility (and beauty) of all connection. We are “asking for answers that you’re never gonna get” and finding that life is pushing our way through without guarantees.
Following on the heels of last year’s critically acclaimed Walking Proof, an album that made several best albums of the year lists, Lately underscores that Lilly Hiatt is a musical force to be reckoned with now and into the future. Hiatt’s vulnerable, poetic writing combined with this menagerie of musical styles render Lately a must listen.