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Tift Merritt keeps (small) crowd very happy

Paradise, Boston, June 19, 2010

Reviewed by Jeffrey B. Remz

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A small crowd did not affect Tift Merritt one bit. In fact, the diminutive sometimes country/rootsy singer from New York via North Carolina was way more than up to the task with a set that changed it up musically while offering excellent musicianship, high quality songs and great singing despite perhaps 175 people in attendance.

Once upon a time, Merritt was a country singer, but then she moved to New York, and one supposes that informed her musical choices. She's no longer such a dyed-in-the-wood country singer. That remains part of the mix, but in more of a rootsy way with a lot of pedal steel guitar. This time around in concert, it's courtesy of the top notch Eric Heywood, who has played on a zillion CDs. He was stellar both on pedal steel and electric guitar. In both cases, he gave the music its country and rootsy sound. Drummer Zeke Hutchins, who doubles as Merritt's husband, was steady behind the skins and took a turn on the humorous I'm Evil as part of the encore.

Merritt switched it up herself between acoustic and electric guitars along with keyboards. She did a solo stint as well. During that portion of the show, she went to the front of the stage with only acoustic guitar in hand and no microphone to sing Keep You Happy. That may have been a risky move in a club setting, but Merritt held sway over the audience which was silent and intent on listening to the fine singing. The bottom line was she changed up the musical quotient.

No matter what the style - country, rock, soulful sounds - was, Merritt excelled. She is touring behind her brand new "See You on the Moon" CD. She played a good chunk of it during the 90-minute show. It's another strong CD from Merritt that showcases her singing. While Merritt writes almost all of her own material, one of the highlights was a cover of Emitt Rhodes' Live Till You Die, a bouncy song from the 1970's songwriter.

Merritt has a powerful voice live as well with her vocals almost always as easily heard above the music. That's a necessity given the quality of her singing, which emotive, expressive and captivating. She also has a good personality, easily interacting with the crowd. Just too bad there weren't more people there because Merritt deserved better.