On the eve of one of their last East Coast performances before recording their first CD in California, Raleigh-based Tift and company delivered a heartfelt, down-home jam that made even the most anti-country members of the house tap their feet in time.
Enveloping the mood of a warm summer night complemented by booze, best buds and goodbyes, Merritt took to the stage, picked up her acoustic and took a drink from her beer. Welcoming the crowd while quietly tuning, she looked like no more than an overachieving child placed in the glaring limelight of near fame.
But make no mistake she isn't afraid of what's ahead, or she's not letting anyone know it if she is. Confident and self-assured, Merritt has the stage presence of an experienced diva.
Tift Merritt is a concentrated woman. While she is no more than 5 feet 2 inches tall, her voice packs a prizefighter's punch, but it's more Ali than Tyson. Powerful yet sensual, commanding yet melodious, Merritt could butcher a rhinoceros while wearing kid gloves.
A little bit Janis, a little bit Cline and a whole lot of Raitt, Merritt cooks up driving Southern rock and traditionally based bluegrass/country. I really hate country music, but Merritt knows how to sell it to the nonbeliever. She's good at what she does, boys and girls. She's very, very good.
After several slow, poignant, yet heavy-on-the-pedal steel tunes, Merritt cranked up the intensity on the Raitt-esque "Sunday Is Nobody's Business."
Belting out soulful blues lyrics with her head kicked back and hands moving lithely over the chords, she seemed already a legend. At that moment, no one with eyes or ears could disagree that it's not a matter of if you'll hear Merritt on the radio but when.
Apologizing for beginning to lose her voice, Merritt took a swig of beer and headed back to a slow country swing. They say losing your voice forces you to sing more on-key. I can't say I've ever heard Merritt sing off-key, but I can say she sounded fabulous despite her worn vocal chords.
Marching on the weary trooper, Merritt continued her set, charming the locals and winning the hearts of a few more lonely souls.
As the night grew late and the show came to a close, the audience politely begged for more. Merritt happily obliged, giving the crowd another three tunes to quell the thirst.
But I suppose that, like an alcoholic can never quell the thirst for a drink, fans will never quell their thirst for Merritt. And she, like a whiskey sour, will only get better with age.
The Arts & Entertainment Editor can be reached at email@example.com.
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