CD Review of Another Country by Tift Merritt
Recommended if you like
The Jayhawks, Cowboy Junkies, Kathleen Edwards
Label
Fantasy Records
Tift Merritt: Another Country

Reviewed by Red Rocker

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T
exan by way of North Carolina Tift Merritt returns, following a short hiatus, with her third album, Another Country. She’s got less to prove yet, somehow, bigger shoes than ever to fill, since her debut (Bramble Rose) and breakout sophomore hit (Tambourine) grabbed Merritt notoriety, national TV, and a Grammy nomination. Suffice to say, she’s not the underdog any more. In fact, the safer bet is that Another Country lands her additional recognition as a genre-crossing vixen with as much pure singer/songwriter know-how as anyone in the country, pop, or folk ranks these days.

Bringing George Drakoulias (The Jayhawks, Maria McKee) along for production responsibilities certainly doesn’t hurt. This purveyor of stripped-down bluesy alt-country with folk tendencies is firmly in his wheelhouse. Lead cut “Something to Me” features fellow Texan Charlie Sexton on guitar, but it’s Merritt’s angelic voice that steers the ship. “Broken” kicks a little more electric guitar than most of the album, but doesn’t come close to overdoing it. Her specialty continues to be very simple songs, as naked as they come, with the instruments usually taking a back seat to the vocals. Another Country is no exception.

Tift Merritt

Merritt can go as quietly as she wants to -- it’s proven on the acoustic, almost-gospel “Hopes Too High” and feather-soft whispers of “Keeps You Happy.” Fans of piano-based R&B will rejoice in the funkiness of “Tell Me Something True,” a Motown flash that recalls Diana Ross and the Supremes. “My Heart Is Free” gets a tad gritty with electric guitar pedals and full band accompaniment, but anyone expecting full-on rock entries (like “Wait It Out” from the last album) will be disappointed. For as much as Merritt knows about country, gospel, and soul, and as capable as Drakoulias is at getting retro organs and guitars to spice up any style, neither allows Another Country to open up and really rip. We know that her unique Alison Krauss pitch can be employed for bigger, bolder endeavors. Just not this time out.

In the end, Merritt’s junior release doesn’t build much on the great potential hinted at by Tambourine. By not branching out or taking any new chances, Another Country is equal parts predictable and, well, good. At some point, however, it might be refreshing to see Merritt tackle a bunch of rougher material, like George Thorogood covers – even if she flopped, it would be interesting.

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