Archive for the Profile Category

Artist Profile: Tift Merritt

Posted in Profile, Tift Merritt on July 18, 2008 by AmericanaPulse

Tift Merritt was born in Texas, but her musical journey began in North Carolina where her family moved when she was a kid. Tift learned to play guitar as a teenager when her father taught her a few chords. Her first break came when she was invited to sing and play rhythm guitar with the Two Dollar Pistols. She appeared with the Pistols on their 1999 EP, The Two Dollar Pistols with Tift Merritt… a collection of mostly covers of classic country tunes such as Cowboy Jack Clement’s “Just Someone I Used to Know.”

The Two Dollar Pistols with Tift Merritt: Just Someone I Used to Know (Buy Album)

Feeling the urge to write and record her own material, Tift set out on her own and formed a band called the Carbines. She was joined by Zeke Hutchins on drums, Jay Brown on bass, and Greg Reading (Chatham County Line) on guitar. The band developed quite a following in North Carolina and seemed poised to sign with Sugar Hill Records. When the deal fell through, fellow North Carolinian Ryan Adams came to Tift’s aid and helped her land a deal with his label, Lost Highway.

Tift’s first release for Lost Highway was 2002’s Bramble Rose, a solid debut that garnered quite a bit of critical praise. The album featured The Carbines in a supporting role and featured several slow-burning, soulful country ballads. The one exception was “Neighborhood,” a Stones-style country-rock strut that admonishes the subject for his carousing ways. The album was successful in introducing Tift to the world, but was just a taste of what was to come.

Tift Merritt: Neighborhood (Buy Album)
Tift Merritt: Trouble Over Me (Buy Album)

If Bramble Rose was Tift’s way of introducing herself to the world… Her sophomore effort, 2004’s Tambourine, was her way of letting the world know she intended to stay a while. With the help of producer George Drakoulias, Tift expanded her repertoire to include more elements of rock and classic soul. Drakoulias had previously produced one of Tift’s favorite albums, Maria McKee’s You Gotta Sin to Get Saved, and one of my favorite albums, The Jayhawks’ Hollywood Town Hall. Drakoulias even used his connections to get McKee and the Jayhawks’ Gary Louris to appear on the album. Heartbreaker Mike Campbell also joined the sessions.

The album was a critical smash. Tift received a Grammy nomination for Best Country Album as well as nominations for Aritst, Album, and Song (“Good Hearted Man”) of the Year at the Americana Music Awards. It was my favorite album of 2004, and is one I still revisit often.

Tift Merritt: Good Hearted Man (Buy Album)
Tift Merritt: I am Your Tambourine (Buy Album)

Tift toured relentlessly after the release of Tambourine, and found that spending so much time on the road rushing from place to place was getting old. She needed a break… some time to relax. Paris called. After a few weeks in Paris, however, relaxation turned to inspiration. Tift rented a flat with a piano and called her friends and family to tell them she would not be home for a while. Three months later, she had formed the collection of songs that would become her third solo album, Another Country.

Released in February on Fantasy Records, Another Country finds a sort of middle ground between the easy country ballads of Bramble Rose and the fiery Memphis soul of Tambourine. Drakoulias returned behind the mixing board. This time, he brought with him guitarists Charlie Sexton (Bob Dylan) and Doug Pettibone (Lucinda Williams). It’s nice to have such ringers in the studio, but these songs stand on their own as well. Tift debuted several of the tunes from Another Country in a solo show at the Mercy Lounge in Nashville during last year’s Americana Music Conference. The show was just Tift and her guitar (sometimes piano). Playing without a band and without a net, she held an audience made up primarily of radio promoters, programmers, and djs captive with her songs. Even Buddy Miller, who joined her on stage to sing harmony on the album’s title track, left impressed. The new album was a hit, and it was still five months from release.

Tift Merritt: Morning is My Destination (Buy Album)
Tift Merritt: My Heart is Free (Buy Album)

Tift Merritt is playing in Knoxville tonight at a place called The Pilot Light in the Old City. I’ve had the chance to see Tift perform a handfull of times in the past, and have always left the shows with a smile. On stage, she is a blur of energy… switching from guitar to keys to tambourine to harmonica and back. She has a command of the stage and the audience. If you’re in Knoxville Friday night, check it out.