Tift Merritt expands beyond her roots
House of Blues, Cambridge, Mass., Oct. 21, 2002
By Jeffrey B. Remz
CAMBRIDGE, MA - Tift Merritt must be doing something right. When she came to the same venue earlier this year, she did not draw too big a crowd, but that was no surprise given the fact that her major label debut on Lost Highway, "Bramble Rose," was just starting to happen.
Four months later, she drew 150 people to a concert that showed the North Carolinian to be a strong singer in the country and blues fields.
Merritt first gained some notice as head of Tift Merritt and The Carbines, which was engaged in country and considered part of the alt.-country crowd.
Now, she's billed as just Tift Merritt even though The Carbines are still present and still turning in a strong performance in providing the musical back-up with everyone turning in a solid performance.
That's not the only change though. Merritt still offered a dose of country during her generous 90-minute show, but based on a few new songs she played, it seems that Merritt, like others in the country field, may be abandoning those roots.
Unlike Faith Hill and LeAnn Rimes, however, Merritt definitely is not going pop. She's going bluesy. And the diminutive performer indicated she has the goods to pull it off. She turned in a credible outing on Delbert McClinton's "Two More Bottles of Wine," for example.
But the one area where Merritt needs a lot of work is in her stage presence. She has not really improved a whole lot since her debut here. She readily acknowledges her discomfort in talking, though she does at least try. But her stage patter tends not to advance the music. Merritt herself prefers letting her music do the talking.
At least the music is solid enough.
Local country performer Stan Martin opened with a set that grew stronger during his stint. He played many songs from his very fine, brand new "Cigarettes and Cheap Whiskey" disc. Martin has improved greatly as a singer, as indicated both on the silver platter and in concert.