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Rising Stars [Issue #10]
Tift Merritt: Highways And U-Turns
By Lynne Bronstein
Tambourine (CD Lost Highway)

The “devils” of modern communication can’t deter Tift Merritt. During a phone interview from her home in North Carolina, she spells out a name for the sake of accuracy, remarking, “The devil’s in the details.” Then her cell phone cuts out-but it’s not long before she’s back on the line, clarifying the story that Ryan Adams “discovered” her for Lost Highway Records.

“It’s a little bit more roundabout than it’s actually portrayed,” she says. “Ryan - and a lot of other people - told Frank Callari about me and Frank became my manager. Frank was eventually one of the founders of Lost Highway.”

Tift (her real middle name) Merritt has done two albums for Lost Highway: 2002’s Bramble Rose, which won critical praise, and Tambourine, which will be in stores this month. Where her first outing was compared to Emmylou Harris and Lucinda Williams, Tambourine will be more difficult to categorize. Plaintive ballads like “Laid the Highway,” alternate with upbeat Memphis-flavored numbers like “I Am Your Tambourine.” Tift wrote all the songs except for the rousing “Your Love Made A U-Turn,” a “well-chosen cover” from the late R&B artist James Carr.

“I don’t think my music has ever been pure country by any stretch of the imagination,” Tift says. She has always enjoyed R&B. “Growing up, my father played guitar and piano by ear and he would get me to sing harmony with old Percy Sledge songs, Otis Redding songs.” Still, as a native of what is known as “The Triangle,” an area of North Carolina encompassing Raleigh, Chapel Hill, and Durham, she absorbed the “twangy” sounds of pedal steel guitars and was influenced by Bob Dylan, Bonnie Raitt, and other country-rock heroes.

Two of her heroes appear on Tambourine. Gary Louris of the Jayhawks and Lone Justice lead singer Maria McKee sing backup vocals on several tracks.

“I’m lucky enough to have met Gary a couple of times and he and Maria have worked with George [Drakoulis, her producer] in the past, so that’s how I got them.” Drakoulis has also worked with Tom Petty and was able to get Heartbreakers guitarist Mike Campbell to sit in.

Stand by for Tift Merritt to tour soon. But as she says of Tambourine: “I know that it’s easier to listen to a record than go to a live show. But this is a lot closer to the energy that we’ve always tried to bring live.”

Lost Highway

Highways And U-Turns Tift Merritt Tambourine

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