Merritt opened her show with "Virginia No One Can Warn You," the second track from Bramble Rose, released June 4. The pint-sized powerhouse seemed refreshed, full of grit and glad to be in front of a familiar audience.
She slowed things down with "Are You Still In Love With Me?," a story-song reminiscent of Willie Nelson's music. The bittersweet, melancholy ballad is perfectly indicative of Merritt's country roots and exemplifies her talent for tugging at the heartstrings rather than just cranking out soon-to-be Southern rock anthems.
In the same vein, Merritt warbled out "Sunday," a midtempo, blues-oriented ballad for sensual, clandestine activities. Backed by newly added saxophone and trumpet, Merritt's band, the Carbines, swelled to match her plaintiff, yet powerful vocals.
Her Joplin-meets-Raitt-meets-Cline voice is not Merritt's only asset, however. She jumps freely from acoustic guitar to electric and from harmonica to keyboards. At the Cradle she bounced from instrument to instrument and from song to song, eager to keep the show rolling at a breakneck pace.
As she sat down at the keyboard for the Vietnam War-themed tune "Bird of Freedom," Merritt verbally dismissed the insult of a Canadian critic who recently equated the song with Skynyrd's "Free Bird." As the band members kept time with the soft taps of their cowboy boots, Merritt exhibited equal aptitude on keyboards as she did on guitar for the duration of the hard rock, 1960s-influenced song.
Merritt finished the set by switching back to acoustic guitar and adding a harmonica for "When I Cross Over," also the final track on Bramble Rose. The slow fade of the hymn-styled tune brought the concert to a quiet end -- at least until the audience erupted into explosive applause, calling Merritt and the Carbines back to the stage for a three-song encore.
And while she covered the entirety of Bramble Rose on stage, it must be said that Merritt live is a different creature than Merritt on CD.
Not to mix album reviews with concert reviews, but Merritt in the flesh bears a certain raw grittiness that a studio recording cannot reproduce. Her energy is contagious, and the complications of budding stardom are made null and void by her musical voracity in front of a crowd.
For now, this trait might be the only thing that will truly pave her way to fame.
The Arts & Entertainment Editor can be reached at email@example.com.
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