The last time out, I spoke around the issue. I described Tift Merritt’s debut album as modest, a work to be appreciated indirectly.
But let’s be clear about it now — Bramble Rose was a bore. The performances were tepid, and Merritt sounded like she was trying too hard to be genteel.
And yet the press — Musicwhore.org included — compares Merritt to a young Emmylou Harris, which isn’t totally unwarranted.
So I was willing to give her second album, Tambourine, a shot.
When the first strums of “Stray Paper” started up, I thought, “Hmmm. Promising.” But when Merritt kicks it with “Wait It Out”, I thought, “Oh hell yeah!”
Tambourine is the proper introduction to Tift Merritt.
This time around, Merritt does her best to rock out. And even when she tones down or turns inward, she doesn’t let herself get weighed down.
“Laid a Highway” goes a long way in reinforcing those Emmylou Harris comparrisons, while “Plainest Thing” develops with a lot more momentum than similar songs on the last album.
Soul and blues have a significant presence on Tambourine. “Good Hearted Man” starts off with some soulful horns, while “Still Pretending” lilts with a Georgia blues rhythm. “I Am Your Tambourine”, meanwhile, goes to church, while “Your Love Made a U-Turn” goes for the funk.
Merritt sounds best, though, when she’s going full throtle. “Wait It Out” smashes through from start to finish, while the honky-tonk feel of “Shadow in the Way” wraps the album up just fine.
The confidence Merritt exudes is well deserved — the songs on Tambourine are all strong, and there’s hardly a dead spot on the album.
The album is such a contrast to her debut, it’s almost easy to think that last album was done by someone else entirely.
And in a way, it was.
With little more than a guitar as accompaniment, Merritt exudes a strong live presence. Her fans clamoured for an album for a long time, so Bramble Rose was greeted with far more enthusiasm than it was due.
Tambourine, on the other hand, captures that live essence, and it does her songwriting some justice.