Q: What do Tift Merritt’s Bramble Rose and Radiohead’s Kid A have in common?
A: Both albums are best heard when you’re not paying close attention to them.
In the case of Kid A, Radiohead achieved, by design or by accident, a goal Brian Eno set out to do with Music for Airports — to keep background music in the background while making it interesting.
Given the conventional songs on Bramble Rose, Tift Merritt most likely didn’t aspire to attain Eno’s goals either. After all, Music for Airports and Kid A barely have a single between them.
And yet, Merritt’s accomplished debut is best heard when relegated to the outskirts of consciousness.
On close examination, there really isn’t anything too remarkable about Bramble Rose — it’s a collection of nicely written, literate country music delivered by a singer constantly compared to a young Emmylou Harris.
The album is so determined in its modesty, nothing about it really stands out.
Ordinarily, such lack of flash can be construed as a virtue, especially in an era where Britney Spears can’t be escaped. But there’s a fine line between modesty and indescript, something Bramble Rose seems to straddle.
It’s only when Merritt’s music is playing in another room on a quiet late night when its beauty emerges.
The sweet harmonizing on “I Know Him Too”, the Georgia blues of “Sunday”, the simplicity of “When I Cross Over” — when the bits and pieces of Merritt’s most memorable moments transmit indirectly does that subtlty turn into seduction.
Sure, there will be folks for whom Merritt makes an immediate connection — it’s not like she’s recorded an album of throw-away filler. Merritt’s voice really is beautiful, and after a while, tunes such as “Trouble Over Me” and “Virginia, No One Can Warn You” ingrain themselves into your karaoke subconscious.
(Um, that’s to say at the very least, you’ll be singing the songs in your head.)
But that quiet beauty may take some work to appreciate. Or it may just be a matter of not listening too closely.