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Tift Merritt understandably likes museum

Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, August 10, 2011

Reviewed by Jeffrey B. Remz

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Tift Merritt told the crowd that she enjoyed playing the museum courtyard better than a bar. It was easy to see why. Not only was the singer putting out a bunch of quality songs in a countryish vein , but the crowd actually even paid attention - particularly a group of Boy Scouts apparently unfamiliar wither before.

Merritt deserved the attention for sure. She hasn't put anything out since "See You on the Moon" came out last year, and this was a one-off gig.

Merritt went through a slew of songs that built to a climax, often thanks to the intensity of her singing starting with the catchy Engine to Turn.

Merritt sang with a tenderness that worked to her favor. She sang with authority, taking ownership of the mood-inducing material. Unfortunately the vocals were also under mixed a few times during the 70-minute set, getting a bit lost when the sound veered towards country rock.

Merritt, who played acoustic and electric guitars and keyboards, stood up well also in part because of her ace band, which includes drummer/husband Zeke Hutchens, bassist Jay Brown, who sang a lot of good backing harmonies, and guitarist/pedal steel guitarist Eric Heywood who was stellar throughout. The ace player got lots of twang out of his pedal steel and more often country rock sounds out of his guitar. He was one strong player, although all contributed to make for a quality sound.

While the band was top notch, the playing perhaps wasn't always the tightest with that most evident at the start of songs, but that wasn't hard to overlook given the rest of the show.

While relying on the past, Merritt also looked ahead with a few worthy new songs, one a country song with emphasis on the vocals, and the closing song of the night, Traveling' On with Merritt on solo acoustic guitar.

The set felt short with Merritt limited to one encore song, instead of the three on her song list, due to time restrictions. Maybe it's not always so great playing at an art museum, but Merritt certainly made you think otherwise.

Bill Janovitz, better known for being part of Boston-based band Buffalo Tom, played a strong 30-minute opening set solo acoustic. He alternated between his own solo material and Buffalo Tom songs. Like the headliner, he sang with an intensity that made the material come alive whether his own or Elvis Costello's Man Out of Time.