Friday, February 8, 2013
>>PREVIEW: Tift Merritt, David Wax Museum, Saturday February 9 at Off Broadway
By trading a youth spent in archetypal Smalltown, USA, for a studio space shared with Yim Yames and Andrew Bird, Tift Merritt went from a place where everybody knew everybody to a place where everybody wants to know her. On her fifth and latest album, Traveling Alone, she tells us how she knows herself, exploring loneliness, loss, and ultimately, perseverance—darker themes than one might expect, given her laidback persona.
Merritt didn’t have a label or a manager when she recorded Traveling Alone, but when you can borrow guitarists from Dylan and drummers from Calexico, and when Emmylou Harris dubs you a “diamond in a coal patch,” magic can be expected. The album does not disappoint. Recorded in just eight days in Brooklyn, its tales fuse the steely confidence of Judy Collins with the dreamy desperation of Ryan Adams at his best. It’s unsurprising to learn that Merritt is also a writer and photographer, as her artistic fruits brim over with a southern-fried edge that leaves no doubt she can stand alone when the time comes.
Setting the stage for Ms. Merritt will be David Wax Museum, at its core the unlikely pair of David Wax and Suz Slezak who came together—he from Harvard and she from Columbia, MO—by bonding over a shared passion for Mexican Americana. A performance from David Wax Museum has that vivacious anything-can-happen (and anything-can-be-an-instrument) quality that makes the stage even better than the studio. Just when you’ve accepted that the jawbone of an ass can provide raucous percussion beneath horns and strings, DWM transcends into lush back-porch gospel harmonies.