BY LEE ZIMMERMAN
Coming quickly on the heels of her last album, Traveling Alone, released just this past October, Tift Merritt rebounds with what can only be described as a decided departure. Joining forces with acclaimed pianist Simone Dinnerstein, she ventures into unlikely terrain, where classical composition cohabitates with America’s rich folk legacy.
The two women effectively reconcile these otherwise incongruous influences, creating a seamless flow that finds Merritt’s take on the traditional “Wayfaring Stranger” flawlessly segueing into Johann Sebastian Bach’s “Prelude in B Minor.” In truth, it’s the tone not the tunes that allow this compatibility; bare-bones accompaniment (Dinnerstein’s luminous piano performances, Merritt’s solitary guitar and languid vocals) keep all the entries in a kind of solitary sync.
Merritt herself contributes a number of songs, and given the fact she also sings all the songs (sans the instrumentals) things are tipped towards Tift as the album’s predominant presence. Still, the most intriguing entries come in the form of “The Cohen Variations,” a piano piece based on Leonard Cohen’s classic “Suzanne”; a poignant cover of the Johnny Nash standby “I Can See Clearly Now”; and a somber vocal interpretation of Franz Schubert’s “Night and Dreams.” It makes for a varied bunch if ever there was one, a set of songs that proves both deft and divine.
DOWNLOAD “Wayfaring Stranger,” I Can See Clearly Now,” “The Cohen Variations”