On her return, there was to be no dual approach, just a fully grasped effort to raise the stakes from a considerable base to begin. Foremost, Lilly Hiatt is an exceptional songwriter, ensuring that no smidgeon of genetic talent is going to waste. Grasping her last two records in particular was an immensely beneficial process, but in essence the mere groundwork for the exposure of twenty songs in a conducive and relaxed Sunday evening environment.
For this headline tour, Lilly has enlisted the services of two trusted musicians, fully acquainted with her body of work. John Condit tuned up the lead guitar to guide from the front, while Robert Hudson flitted between assorted percussion, mandolin and temperate electric guitar to ensure the rhythm held up. From the pivotal focal point, Lilly embraced the challenge of opening up her songbook alongside a couple of nods to famous figures of inspiration.
The audience may not overall have been tuned into the work of Pearl Jam, but Lilly connected with one enthusiastic member via a version of ‘Elderly Woman Behind the Counter in a Small Town’. Maybe they were more John Prine than pioneering grunge, with the eternal ‘Angel From Montgomery’ proving the perfect send off from one fledgling songwriter tipping their hat in tribute to a legend.
Covers may be a talking point, but this show was absolutely defined by the quality of the original composition. Stretching the breadth of three releases, the unsurprising focus was on last year’s critically acclaimed hit TRINITY LANE, with Lilly explaining the Nashville location of the title in all its socio-economic infamy. The title track itself was one of the highlights from a brace of sets that extended the venue’s usual Sunday evening finish time. Other significant airings from an exceptional release were a reference to her father, the legendary John Hiatt, in ‘Imposter’, the evocative and deeply personal ‘The Night David Bowie Died’ and the highly engaging ‘Records’, setting up the equally interactive encore closer, and a tribute to the man of the moment – John Prine.
As a performer, Lilly increasingly grew into her role. The vocals are on the lo-fi side of the spectrum, but perfectly suited to the strummed expanses of her earthy country folk style. There is an alternative garage streak to her onstage persona, which soaks up the gritty sentiment of the songs. There is also an element of classic singer-songwriter era to her demeanour, while grounding out timeless songs from an expansive arsenal. Ultra-personal songs such as ‘Somebody’s Daughter’ and ‘Jesus Would’ve Let Me Pick the Restaurant’ flew the flag for the ROYAL BLUE album, in a similar vein to what the title track and ‘3 Days’ did for her 2015 record LET DOWN. While this release has not yet made the collection, the latter track mentioned - itself inspired by the length of a road trip from Tennessee to Texas - was fondly remembered from the 2016 show.
What Lilly Hiatt did to strengthen her position on the appreciation scale, opening act Hope in High Water did likewise, albeit from a differing angle. Swap Nashville for Milton Keynes for starters and this is the latest of a growing number of sets they have played at the Kitchen in recent times. Josh and Carly continue to project a compelling air of duality in how their vocals come across. Josh in particular is polishing the bruised output, drawing comparisons to two rugged singer-songwriters in Ben Glover and Michael McDermott in impressing live from the very spot he stood this evening.
In true cross Atlantic comraderie, both support and headliner appreciatively complimented each other. Any healthy scene requires a multi-facetted approach to the origins of its performers, even if the synergy of the roots influence is securely evidenced. To quote a rather iconic figure, this compactly packed evening of over 30 original tunes was in the spirit of ‘for the sake of the song’. When artists as good as Lilly Hiatt shows their command, you know the spirit is in safe hands. To ratchet up the impact of a quality album as TRINITY LANE is no mean feat. The pleasure of being in the intimate vicinity of a high calibre artist is never taken for granted, but always entirely embraced.