Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Why Isn't Tift Merritt more popular?

My wife is the country music fan, not me. But I admit I am partial to country-rock, having grown-up with The Eagles, CCR, as well as John Denver. But it was only the past couple of years that I've listened to any current 'country' music. And that was a singer profiled on NPR (so she couldn't be THAT bad, right?) The singer is Tift Merritt and her music is divided between soft ballads and honky-tonk Nashville something-or-other. And I love it! Her melodies are classic and her lyrics are (mostly) poetry sung out loud.

But the only one of her songs ever played on Radio Paradise was blasted by other listeners as "I've heard this song played a million other times by a million other artists." They also said she sounded like 'someone else', e.g. Sheryl Crow or Patti Griffin. Fer crissakes people, most people sound *somewhat* like other persons! Maybe I'm not well-versed enough in modern country music to realize if she really is derivative or not. Personally, I think her music reminds me of Bonnie Raitt and her "Luck of the Draw" album.

On her previous album, the single was "Stray Paper" and while I liked it, it was never one of my favorites. This is the song that everyone on RP ripped. Instead, I really liked "Wait It Out", "Good Hearted Man", "I Am Your Tambourine" and especially "Late Night Pilgrim" (which is a classic song of late-night angst).

Apparently, her record company was disappointed with the sales of the album -- or maybe she was just resistant to immediately cranking out another -- and so she lost her contract. She spent a year slumming it in Paris and then got a new contract, with a new label, and released a new album. I immediately bought it through Amazon MP3 and listened to it every day for weeks. What am I, a teenager?

Anyways, my favorite songs on the new album are "Broken" (the single), "Another Country" (the title track and a sweet love song; I even whispered it spontaneously to my wife one night, wow!). She returns to late-night angst in "Morning is my destination" and even throws in an anti-war song "My Heart Is Free."

Actually, I have a theory about her relative lack of success. She's an excellent singer and songwriter but she doesn't have... A Band! On the new album, in particular, the guitar solos are all competent but they positively smack of studio musician. They're not inspired, at all. Maybe that undercuts all her big production numbers?

UPDATE: A month after writing this, I read an interview with her where she talks about 'her band'. So apparently the anemic guitar solo and (relatively) 'flat' chorus in "My Heart Is Free" are her producer's fault. There, I've done it. I've pissed-off all the people in her inner circle :-)

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