Tift Merritt - Ain't Looking Closely  Tift Merritt - Still Pretending  Tift Merritt - Write My Ticket  Tift Merritt - Plainest Thing  Tift Merritt - Late Night Pilgrim  Tift Merritt - Laid A Highway  With oodles of critical praise but disappointing commercial response, Tift Merritt's terrific debut was a qualified success. On her follow-up two years later, she gradually but decidedly moves her ringing country rock toward a more classic soul sound.
For one thing, she's responsible for one of the best acoustic guitar strums of the simple notes that usher in "Stray Paper", the opening cut off her new album Tambourine. They're everything they should be and nothing more: thick, melodic and in service to the singer.
And when coupled with the track's lyrics, the song suggests a stately Neil Young, but with Merritt's composed, gorgeous voice rather than a world-weary falsetto. Already recognized for her heralded debut, Bramble RoseMerritt is still languishing in pop purgatory, Aint Looking Closely - Tift Merritt - Tambourine (CD, but Tambourine has all the makings of a smash.
Recorded by George Drakoulias who helmed albums for The Black Crowes and Album) Jayhwaks and with session musicians instead of Merritt's backing band, the album dresses simple, solid Americana in glamorous, well-cut attire, swerving clear of prevalent mainstream gags such as goofy humor, crystalline production, and schmaltzy narratives. Instead, Merritt veers toward a more soulful sound: Tracks like "Ain't Looking Closely" and "Wait Aint Looking Closely - Tift Merritt - Tambourine (CD Out" are classic backporch power pop, while "Late Night Pilgrim" sounds like Wilco had they hunkered down and refined their country licks instead of branching out into more experimental territory.
And while these songs don't offer much variety, the buoyant, well-balanced instrumentation makes Tambourine a breezy listen.
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