our score: 2.5 out of 5.0
every mediocre female singer-songwriter whose record I’ve
endured looking for that Sam Phillips or Gillian Welch in the
rough (and it’s getting rougher all the time), Sarah McLachlan
moves a step further up my shit list. The female singer-songwriter
explosion in the 1990s brought about in large part by the multi-platinum
success of Fumbling Toward Ecstasy came as both a blessing
and a curse to younger generations bereft of any worthwhile musical
icons. On the one hand, the ground was softened for the likes
of P.J. Harvey, Liz Phair, Ani Difranco, Fiona Apple and a few
other provocative songstresses, who at the very least proved that
there was more to white woman’s music than material girls
in a material world.
flipside, of course, was this tremendous glut of insipid crooners
too numerous to mention here (see Lilith Fair), but suffice it
to say that Jewel, Joan Osbourne and Meredith Brooks were just
the tip of the iceberg. But because of their immediate transparency,
they never really posed a problem for critics, right? Sheryl Crow’s
single-minded ambition to party until sunrise on Santa Monica
Boulevard wasn’t exactly inviting deep analysis and discernment.
trouble with Tift Merritt is how she teeters on the fence separating
these two camps, neither crossing the threshold of interesting,
nor embarrassing herself. The polished, country-tinged pop of
her debut, Bramble Rose, simply doesn’t boast the
craft to set it apart as anything more than a “nice,”
but ultimately disposable record.
And by the way, that’s saying something, considering Merritt’s
backing band features the likes of Heartbreaker Benmont Tench
and dobroist Greg Readling.
tempting to blame the producer for squandering such talent. Ethan
Johns does make some questionable calls. Pedal steel driven songs
like “Diamond Shoes” and “I Know Him Too,”
in which Merritt warns of an untrustworthy lover, evoke the passionless
gloss of “Take It Easy”-era Eagles, rendering the
song’s otherwise solemn content ineffectual.
she sings, “I guess no one told you nobody could hold him/I
guess his whispers still sound true/and his secrets are still
the same as the ones I knew,” there’s as much pathos
and conviction as a soap opera. But the fault doesn’t lie
so much in Merritt’s vocal delivery as the choice of arrangement,
which robs the writing of any appropriate gravity.
subtler arrangements, such as on “Sunday” and “Are
You Still in Love with Me?” work precisely because they
provide a context for the lyrics, an atmospheric underpinning
for Merritt’s mournful vocals, which is by far her greatest
asset. Although a bit more countrified and earthy, she suggests
a bit of the ethereal blues of Emmylou Harris.
said, Tift Merritt has a long way to go before she deserves anything
but a superficial comparison to Harris, but scoring a Daniel Lanois
or Malcolm Burn to work the boards, a move that worked brilliantly
for Harris in the mid-’90s, could be just the trick to springboard
her career. Otherwise, records like Bramble Rose, while
far from disastrous, lack the originality to distinguish them
from the Nashville throng.
liked Bramble Rose...
1. Trouble Over Me
2. Virginia, No One Can Warn You
4. Bird of Freedom
5. Bramble Rose
6. I Know Him Too
8. Supposed To Make You Happy
9. Diamond Shoes
10. Are You Still In Love With Me
11. When I Cross Over