by Eric Harabadian, Contributing Blogger
Album Review of Matt Hillyer: Glorieta (State Fair Records)
Back in the mid-’60s The Lovin’ Spoonful had a hit called “Nashville Cats.” And in it, lead singer John Sebastian sang “Well there’s thirteen hundred and fifty two guitar pickers in Nashville. And they can pick more notes than the number of ants on a Tennessee ant hill.” No doubt one of those aspiring guitar pickers spawned by that monumental music town is none other than singer-songwriter Matt Hillyer. But, like they say, the cream always rises to the top and, with Hillyer, that is, indeed, the case.
For over 23 years, Hillyer honed his craft as a member of legendary honky-tonkers Eleven Hundred Springs. When the band called it quits at the end of 2021, the prodigious tunesmith parlayed his considerable acumen into a solo career. The result of that venture is evidenced here in his 2023 release Glorieta.
This is a diverse affair that packs a considerable traditional country wallop, but it also throws in a few interesting musical detours along the way. The title track kicks off the album and is an ode to a family retreat nestled deep in the hills of New Mexico. It contains a huge chorus with a nice mix of lyrical guitar and fiddle from Hillyer and Heather Stalling, respectively.
“Stolen Kisses” has a bit of a driving swing that’s equal parts Dwight Yoakam and Roy Orbison. The chord changes are tasty and reflect an upbeat mood. “Just Passing Through” continues that workman-like country feel, with a radio-ready ballad. And “You Gotta Keep Moving” is a catchy and endearing track, with an uplifting message of perseverance and overcoming heartbreak and defeat.
“Ordinary Man” follows and is anything but ordinary. It is sort of an ode to Hillyer’s father, who “lived for his family, the most important thing in his life.” As his bio states, the song is “more Beatles than Bakersfield.” And this tale of an unrequited life does have a surreal, “Sgt. Pepper” vibe to it. It’s very reflective and atmospheric and somewhat atypical to what one might expect from a traditional or, even, modern country artist. But, again, Hillyer likes to color outside the lines and this song certainly nails that.
“Dirty Little Secrets” returns to a country format, with a catchy mid-tempo groove. “What Kind of Fool” ushers in a shuffle. It harkens back to a ’50s/’60s-flavored ballad. Hillyer finds a sweet niche here for some succinct and passionate guitar fills. “It’s All About the Ride” and “Holding Fast” are great slices of that pure honky tonk this songwriter made famous.
The record winds down with the eerie and noir-ish “Diablo Motel.” It’s got a decidedly Tex-Mex feel and some nice touches of accordion from Abel Casillas. Appropriately, Hillyer concludes with the clever and worldy-wise “That’s How You Know.” In it, the singer-songwriter depicts the goings-on at a house party that seems to be getting out of hand. But if you listen with a third ear, he makes excellent commentary on male-female relationships and human nature as a whole.
Matt Hillyer is a musician with a stellar reputation, particularly within the country music community. But, now as a solo artist, it’s obvious he’s got a ton of fuel left in the tank and is just getting started as far as what he creatively brings to the table. He’s a fully-formed singer-songwriter who respects the traditions of the past yet has a clear vision for how to blend that with a modern world perspective.
The “Tour” page of Matt’s website lists a few upcoming gigs around Texas. Matt opens, as a solo acoustic act, for Joshua Ray Walker on Friday, May 19 at the 11th Street Cowboy Bar in Bandera and on Saturday, May 20 at Gruene Hall in New Braunfels. You can also catch him on Friday June 2 at KHYI’s 27th Annual Texas Music Revolution in McKinney, on Friday, October 6 (solo acoustic) at The Great State Fair of Texas in Dallas, and on Saturday, October 7 opening for Dale Watson at The Truck Yard in Dallas.
Matt’s Instagram account is a good follow. You can also find him on Twitter and Facebook.