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From the Country Standard Time Archives

Tift Merritt beats the tambourine of change

Cambridge, Mass., TT the Bears, Oct. 5, 2004

By Jeffrey B. Remz

CAMBRIDGE, MA - Once upon a time, Tift Merritt was considered a straight ahead country artist, but things change.

And while the diminutive, attractive North Carolinian still can toss a country song into the mix, Merritt showed during a strong 100-minute show that she certainly has expanded her repertoire.

Merritt's new album, "Tambourine," aims for far more of a soulful rock sound ("Ain't Looking Closely" among many others) than emphasizing her country roots.

And that about summed up Merritt in concert.

Merritt is a strong singer despite being smallish in stature. Lucinda Williams seems like a reference point, meaning Merritt gets into the heart of the song. She has a big, able-boded voice, something she demonstrated numerous times during the evening (the very soulful "Good Hearted Man" from "Tambourine"). In fact, one of the few problems of the evening was that on a number of occasions, Merritt's vocals were mixed too low in comparison to the band.

Not that the band was overplaying it. Guitarist Brad Rice was no slouch at all, providing meaty, often steely guitar lines throughout in a bunch of songs that could cite the rootsy side of the Rolling Stones as an influence ("Write My Ticket"). Long-time drummer Johnny Lee Hutchins did an able job behind the skins. Interestingly enough despite the quality of the band, Merritt opted to go with a bunch of guests on her album, including Heartbreaker Mike Campbell on guitar and Don Heffington on drums.

Merritt has generally been the recipient of positive press, which certainly couldn't explain the crowd of about 50 people at the show. Granted, it was a Tuesday night, but Merritt showed that she deserved more than that.

And Merritt clearly believes in the album - she played all 12 songs from it. The album is a change for Merritt, but that's quite all right as showed in concert if willing to go along for the ride.