Grammy nominee Tift Merritt raised the roof at the venerable Troubadour nightclub on Friday night, making good on the promises that 2004’s “Tambourine” laid out for her.
There are countless Nashville underdog b-movies that tell tales of a genuinely talented artist running their marathon of empty clubs and cynical record execs as they work up to their one, big hopefully triumphant shot at either artistic dignity or a hit single.
Tift Merritt’s Friday night (1/29) set occasionally had the goose bumps feeling of a Hollywood ending, coming on the tail end of critical raves over 2004’s “Tambourine” collection and headed into a major underdog challenge at February’s Grammy ceremony. The CD is nominated in the Best Country Album category, going up against Tim McGraw, Loretta Lynn, Keith Urban and Gretchen Wilson.
It’s an odd fit for the album, which ambitiously and seamlessly covers a range of styles from traditional country to driving Tom Petty-style rock, gospel, Brill building pop and blue-eyed soul. And as strong as the collection works on CD, Merritt and her well-oiled band took several of the songs to a new level on stage.
Opener “Ain’t Looking Closely” set a “we’re going to experiment a little bit” tone for the evening with organ and guitar workouts that evoked a late-60’s Santana vibe. Merritt brought in horns and backup singers for the funk workout “Your Love Made a U-Turn,” a mid-set highlight. They returned near the end of the set for the Dusty Sprigfield-esque “Good Hearted Man” and “Tambourine,” the title song of the album that is an irresistible barn-burner gospel-style rave-up.
But amid the sonic fireworks of the big noise numbers, Merritt’s country roots shone brightly, perhaps best showcased on the bittersweet ballad “Plainest Thing,” the prettiest moment on the album and a pin-drop moment in the show.
In all, a standout show with the perfect chemistry of the right band, the right material and a charismatic performer cranking up the wattage. Highly recommended, for at least the ability to say you saw Tift Merritt when she was still playing clubs.