Tift Merritt & Simone Dinnerstein – Night (2013)

Tift Merritt & Simone Dinnerstein

Alt-Country Princess takes a huge leap into the unknown and finds her voice

I’ve been a fan of Tift Merritt for 10 years now and pretty much thought I knew what to expect; so when I heard that she was recording an album with a Classically trained pianist I was intrigued and couldn’t wait to hear the finished article.

As I slid the silver disc into the player I genuinely didn’t know what to expect. As Tift and Simone Dinnerstein share equal billing on the album cover I presumed that the Texan singer wouldn’t just be adding backing vocals; but after repeated plays in the last month I’ve been absolutely mesmerized by the collaboration.

On her last but one album, ANOTHER COUNTRY Tift proved that she can ‘do the business’ on her own; but here the production is so clear and raw; as you’d expect from a Classical album, every breath counts and her voice, alongside the piano and occasional strummed guitar is simply breathtaking throughout.

NIGHT opens with Tift’s own; gentle Only in Songs and sets the scene nicely, but hardly prepares you for Simone Dinnerstein performing Schubert’s Night and Dreams underneath Tift giving an understated vocal performance of a lifetime, which follows it.

Already after two tracks I knew that I was listening to something very special indeed and not like anything I’d ever heard before.

After 20 years of reviewing Country, Rock and Folk music, words actually fail me as I try to describe Simone Dinnerstein’s piano playing on The Cohen Variations which she wrote in homage to Leonard Cohen. I’ve not listened to anything like it before and have been nearly moved to tears a couple of times as I sat mesmerized.

Over the years I’ve had to sit through many stale versions of the Celtic Folk song I Will Give My Love an Apple but Tift manages to find something hidden in it’s depths and her soft strumming on a guitar coupled with Simone gentle tinkling on the ivories has created Folk music par excellence.

I now have to sweep back to an earlier track; Billie Holliday’s Don’t Explain which, apparently has always been Tift Merritt’s favourite song. This arrangement (a la Nina Simone) really does take the Country singer onto a whole new pantheon and will; quite rightly draw favourable comparisons to the great Jazz vocalists like the two aforementioned ladies and indeed a young Judy Garland; and I don’t say that lightly.

The title track, Patty Griffin’s Night sounds nothing at all like the original and is another track that will have the hairs on the back of your neck standing on end if you even have the tiniest piece of compassion in your soul.

Tift and Simone have been incredibly brave with their choice of music here and without producers Adam Abeshouse and Ryan Freeland could easily have been an incredible mess; but it’s not – far from it; as they manage to combine Jazz, Classical and Popular music with the greatest of ease and grace.

In these days of downloads and listening on personal stereos it will be all too easy to skip tracks or not even buy some; but I urge you to buy the complete album and listen to it in full with the lights down low. You won’t regret it.

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