Lilly Hiatt and the Dropped Ponies: Let Down
Lilly Hiatt‘s first release, Let Down, with the Dropped Ponies has proven to be something of an anomaly for the Nashville country/western format. The musician herself contains all the expected earmarks of any breakout hopeful: a voice both crystalline and feminine, a heritage built upon past success, her genre jumping songwriter father John Hiatt‘s material has been covered extensively by varied acts from Paula Abdul to Jewel, Jimmy Buffett, Eric Clapton, Chaka Khan and a surprisingly diverse set too long to list here, and her band the Dropped Ponies provide a backing sound enviable for any country front-man.
Equally disturbing is the range displayed across the ten tracks of Let Down. Far from the monochromatic offerings displayed by most first release artists struggling to find a unique or at least definable ‘voice,’ Ms. Hiatt offers an intriguing and attractive selection of songs from pathos and dark gothic Americana of “People Don’t Change,” to a generous reciprocation of teeth and grit in distortion tinged tracks like “Angry Mamma” or “3 Days” where she quips, “One’s been sober and two a haze/On the road for just three days.” It’s a song which describes her fake-it-til-you-make-it introduction to the world of whiskey drenched towny bar stages from Arkansas to California which may be the perfect metaphor for the group’s work on this album. While most acts tend to gravitate towards producing an identifiable brand, or the imitation of one, the Dropped Ponies might be making a critical mistake with their intentions towards legitimate original music.
To be certain, outside the concentrated confines of Austin, Nashville, or certain well hidden pockets in the deep West which are already over-burdened with similar alt/country acts there isn’t much of hope of a national agenda for these types of rare gems. The lack of generic fiddle rhythm or dripping overly enunciated southern accent spells certain doom in regards to top forty ambitions. Another misstep can be found lyrically. For some reason, Ms. Hiatt has foregone the cheap wordplay of redneck related semantics stifling the genre to focus instead on personal point of view, intimate reflections on the hardship of love, and coming up the hard way in an industry that absolutely demands homogeneity.
But perhaps alt-country is a misnomer. These days when country music icons no longer forge personalities against the politics of the society we live in but instead are massaged and manufactured from the very cradle to generate optimum revenue from a complicit market demographic, Ms. Hiatt and the Dropped Ponies are the modern equivalent of their musical forebearers and should rightly be described as just country. Nevermind the contrivances of chart toppers who utilize refrains to tell you they’re country. Like most things in life, if it has to be said it’s probably not true.
The group takes a huge chance on this album in their organic approach and level headed delivery. Much like conscious hip hop, Lilly Hiatt and the Dropped Ponies are an anomaly in the meta-musical sense. Their audience is limited to those who demand thought and creativity in addition to entertainment within a genre that has ballooned outward in the very direction it originally defied. Sprawling across the ten tracks of the very appropriately titled, Let Down, one will not find catchy hooks or neon bright production, nor in Ms. Hiatt will they discover a pretty face and vacant though technically proficient voice, and neither will the lyrics reveal sing-along everyman anthems endorsing an antiquated and nonexistent rural ideal. Instead, the audience receives the articulate and entertaining accompaniment of a talented backing band, the beautiful and endearing vocal delivery of a promising young lady, and lyrics that detail the hopes and fears, trials and joy of the young. If commercial success be uncertain, then Lilly Hiatt and the Dropped Ponies have at the very least accomplished the most elusive if not most admired in aspect of music, that which could be called art.
Download: Lilly Hiatt and the Dropped Ponies “Let Down”
Buy: iTunes or Insound! vinyl