Take a song like "Heartache is an Uphill Climb," sung early in the first of two shows this night. Here, like other songs sprinkled in the 75-minute set, was not exactly uplifting. Not with words like "How does the scar forgive the knife?/How does the pride forget the fight?"
The somewhat soulful song is from her singer/songwriter effort "Stitch of the World" from earlier this year, which leaned away from her country past. The release also marked her first since divorcing drummer Zeke Hutchins. The dissolution of the marriage doubtlessly marked the downward sepia of Merritt's music.
While Merritt would not be accused of being overly happy musically (though there were a share of songs about the search for finding love), it would be wrong to label a Merritt show a downer.
That's because she was an affable sort, engaging with the crowd with a bunch of a heartfelt songs.
Merritt struck an inclusive tone with "My Boat" where everyone is welcome ("No one will be denied on my boat" where everybody will have "a really good time.") The song seemed quite appropriate for the current political tones in the U.S.
Merritt was aided time and again by sidekick Eric Heywood, mainly on pedal steel as well as guitar. No surprise there, but Heywood was one stellar player. He always has been no matter whom he plays with - and the list is considerable (Son Volt, Hayes Carll, The Pretenders). The guy was his usual musical tour de force.
Merritt ended with "Bramble Rose." She pointed out that the song from her very first album in 2002 was recorded by Don Henley for his most recent disc, "Cass County" with Mick Jagger and Miranda Lambert singing along.
For some reason, Merritt said she hadn't played the song in a few years, but what a great way to end a night of often deeply personal songs. Merritt's world may not always be an easy or pretty song, but she sure made it sound like it is. It was easy to go along with this ride. Heartache and all.