Reviewed by Jeffrey B. Remz
he package may remain small for Tift Merritt - that's not too likely to change any decade soon - but that has not a whole lot to do with what the diminutive New Yorker brings to the table.
With Merritt, (okay, really she's a North Carolina native, but getting kind of close for passing herself off as a New Yorker) that means a voice that commands attention along with a bevy of well-written tunes. That remains true with her sixth studio disc, "Traveling Along," which came out the day before the concert.
Merritt lays claim to one beautiful voice as it's earthy yet has an angelic, neo-precious quality to it. She never needed to overpower the music during the 85-minute set because her voice was mixed above the music for most of the show. Merritt delivered with an intense, emotional quality throughout (Spring). It's more the voice than any sort of stage antics that sets Merritt apart especially since she is a sufficiently warm, albeit lower key performer.
Merritt certainly believes in "Traveling Alone." She better have, considering she played all 11 songs. Most of the material is on the slower, Americana side with a very few harder edged songs (Still Not Home, the fastest song of the show). Merritt was generally content to play acoustic guitar, letting the songs reach their natural end (the very pretty, very sad Drited Apart is a prime example), with occasional forays to keyboards to spice up the material.
Merritt was ably backed by new drummer Tony Leone (he replaced Merritt's husband, Zeke Hutchins two months ago as Hutchins is now handling the chores for Sharon Van Etten) and long-time guitarist Jerry Brown, who also helped on backing vocals. The big-time contributor, though, is pedal steel/guitarist ace-in- the-hole Eric Heywood. The veteran wove a slew of nice lines on either instrument throughout the night without ever dominating, starting from the get go with Sweet Spot from "Traveling Alone."
Only near the end did Merritt particularly reach back into her catalogue with songs like Bramble Rose, Stray Paper, Broken and Mixtape played in consecutive order. There was no Engine to Turn from her last CD, the very fine "See You on the Moon," for some reason. And it would also have been nice to hear more from other albums as well.
In her low-key style, Merritt commented at one point how she was surprised it's been a decade since she released her first disc. It may have been a considerable amount of time, but some things have never changed in Merritt's career. For her, that's a good thing.
The Pines, a trio from Minnesota, opened with a folky-flavored show with a vocal ode to Dylan. Well delivered and likable, the set was a tad too similar.