Archive for Tift Merritt

The Bramble Rose (or “How Tift Merritt Broke Up My Band”)

Posted in Current Events, Music, Music Video with tags , , , , , , , , on October 16, 2012 by greedycherry

Tift MerrittFrankly, I can’t remember the last time I went out to see a live show (well, one that wasn’t free to the public, anyway). I’m sure it wasn’t that long ago, but money hasn’t exactly been plentiful these past couple of years, so I haven’t really been that inclined to go donating large chunks of my hard-earned cash to Ticketmaster.

This month, however, has proved to be an anomaly. First item of note: my boss was kind enough to donate to my worthy cause a ticket to see the Alabama Shakes at the House of Blues on Friday the 5th, which, if I may say, was a pretty damn good show. But, as this post isn’t about that, I’ll move on.

Even more odd (and more relevant to this post), a few days before that I had won a pair of concert tickets on the radio. It was a Sunday afternoon, and I was listening to “Sunday Morning Country with Cousin Kate”, an EXCELLENT show on local Boston College station WZBC. (If you’re in the Boston area, I would recommend you make it regular listening. If you’re not, they keep the past two weeks’ worth of shows online, so you’ve got no excuse …. you can listen any time you’d like!) After a particularly good set of tunes, Cousin Kate suddenly announced that if you heard a Tift Merritt song in the next set and were caller number five, you would win tickets to see Tift in concert at Johnny D’s in Somerville. As I consider myself a Tift Merritt fan, this definitely got my attention, and when I heard the unmistakable sound of her voice begin to ring out, I jumped on my phone (not literally, of course) and dialed the station’s number.

The phone started ringing, and Kate picked up, telling me I was caller number three. “Well, crap,” I thought. No reason to bother calling back … if I was three, statistically, how could I possibly call back in time to be five?

Still, my finger hit “redial”.

Now here’s the odd part. You ever have that thing happen where your phone indicates that it’s dialing, but you don’t hear anything? And then the time starts ticking on your display, as if someone’s picked up and you’re already talking, but you still can’t hear anything? Well, if you haven’t, consider yourself lucky. It’s infuriating. Even more so when you’re trying to win tickets….

Now my phone says I’m connected, but there’s no sound….I should be talking to someone, but I hear only silence. So I do what calm, rational people usually do when this happens: yell frantically into my phone. “HELLO? HELLO?? HELLOOOOOOOOOOOOO???”

And because the only way it could possibly get worse is if you can suddenly hear the other person but they still can’t hear you, that’s exactly what happens.

“Hello? WZBC … hello?”


So I’m pretty sure of two things right now. One, I think I’m actually, somehow, the right number caller to win these tickets. Two, because of my stupid phone, I’m about to lose these tickets. Then, a miracle.

“Oh, hello! You’re caller number five!”

She can hear me now. Sweet.

Anyway, that’s a long route to travel to make the point that I won tickets to see Tift Merritt on the radio. But you’re never getting those minutes of your life back now, so you’ll just have to live with it.

"Bramble Rose" Album CoverI can’t remember the first time I heard Tift Merritt, but I do know that I was impressed from the moment I did. Her voice, capable of both tender whispers and powerful shouts, is one of those unique instruments that you hear once and recognize it instantly from that point forward. The songs are great too, which is definitely a plus, but it’s the voice that wraps around them that makes it all so unique and special. There’s an intimacy in the way she sings, especially on the down-tempo numbers, that makes you feel like she’s sitting right in front of you with her guitar, singing directly to you. Never heard Tift before? I recommend you start here, with the first track from her first record “Bramble Rose”: “Trouble Over Me”.

Anyway, the first time I saw Tift Merritt live was the only time I’d ever seen her, on the tour for that first record. I had purchased the CD a few months earlier and wore it out (well, you really can’t wear out CDs, I suppose, so that’s outdated terminology), and, on the strength of what I heard and loved, I bought a ticket to see the show. Honestly, though, I’m not sure I was prepared for what I experienced that night at Iota Club & Cafe in Arlington, Virginia.

And since we’re now getting to the main story behind this post, let me give you a little bit of background. I was in a band at this time that I had formed with an old high school friend of mine. I always thought that he and I would find our careers in music together, playing gigs, releasing CDs, and climbing the music industry ladder to success over time. In addition to being friends, we both had the same love of music history and trivia, and I thought we were both pretty good songwriters. It seemed that with just a bit of effort and luck, we could most certainly carve out some sort of success with our band and really make a go of it, as we had always talked about.

Unfortunately, without getting into too much personal detail, let’s just say that I was sadly mistaken. My friend went off to college to become an engineer, and, although the band started back up after he returned, I really don’t think he took music seriously after that. Sometimes I thought we were both still in the game, and that we were working towards similar goals, but over time I felt a large chasm grow between us. Whenever we had band practices, he seemed withdrawn and unengaged, and I began to think he just didn’t want to do it anymore. It seemed to me that the group was some sort of strange unwanted obligation to him, rather than the invigorating, life-changing experience it had always been. And so the band staggered forward, containing an unspoken (most of the time, anyway) undercurrent of tension, and it was really starting to become no fun. I wanted my friend back and pushed hard at his apathy. He found me, I’m sure, to be an overbearing prick, and withdrew further. Sure, we were starting to get more gigs as a band, but the tension was always there, and that made things hard for everyone.

And so it was that I bought my ticket to see Tift Merritt and traveled down to Virginia for the show. I took a spot near the stage, waited for her arrival with anticipation, and when that musical dynamo hit the stage, it was simply awesome. She rocked, she rolled, she belted, she whispered, and had everyone in the club dancing and singing and smiling. The energy was just pouring off the stage and devouring every person in that audience, and it made me feel great. I was happy, and I could tell that the band was happy. They looked like they were having the time of their lives … and that’s when it hit me.

Music is supposed to be fun.

I thought to myself, “This is what being in a band is supposed to feel like. Not misery. Not tension. Not arguments and cutting comments under your breath. Not indifference or disdain. But FUN. It’s supposed to be fun and make you feel good.”

And at that moment, I knew that my time in my band was over. I was simply wasting my life and my time, spending however many hours a week rehearsing, practicing, playing music … but having no fun. It just wasn’t worth it anymore.

Maybe I could go solo. Or form another band. Or just quit doing music for a while and give myself some time to reflect. I really wasn’t sure what I was going to do at that point, but I knew what I wasn’t going to do anymore.

And so it came to pass on that fateful night so many years ago, that the wonderfully talented singer/songwriter Tift Merritt broke up my band.

Tift Merritt Live

Eric Heywood, Tift Merritt, and Jay Brown

So … here we are about a decade later, and I finally had another chance to go see Tift live in concert. As expected, it was a great show, although not as rip-your-face-off rocking as the one at Iota. (However, it must be said that Johnny D’s is a sit-down dinner-type joint, while Iota was a stand up small bar-type venue which lent itself more to ‘loud and rocking’…) Still, solid performances, great music, fun audience interactions, and fabulous pedal steel guitar courtesy of Eric Heywood. (Always a plus, in my opinion.)

So the show’s over, and I’m putting on my coat. Mere moments away from turning around and heading for the door, I suddenly see Tift and her bassist come out of the back and start to make their way across the club. Considering where I’m standing, it’s obvious to me that she’ll be passing close by shortly, and that I may be able to say something to her. It’s that moment that all fans hope for: you go see an artist whose work you admire, and you get a chance to express your appreciation. An ever-so-brief tête-à-tête with the star of the show….how exciting (and, may I add, nerve-wracking)! What should I say?

Well, as she strode towards me, I quickly came up with a line or two in my head. My little speech went something like this: “Hello Tift! Great show tonight! Just wanted to let you know that I saw you on your very first tour, and it was an amazing show that night too. Thanks for all the great music!”

I mean, nothing Shakespearean in nature, obviously, but it would do the job just fine.

Problem was that Tift wasn’t looking at me. She was headed right for me, but kept her head down. I couldn’t make eye contact to indicate I wanted to say something, and I felt awkward just blurting out something as she passed, so I wasn’t sure what to do. Finally, as she walked right in front of me, she raised her head and looked at me. My lead-in time was gone. I had a half second to say something as she passed by. Quick! Think of something! Start talking! SAY. SOMETHING.

“Good job!”

I recoiled in horror as the words fell out of my mouth, dropping straight to the carpet with a thud. What the hell was THAT? “Good job”? “Good job”????? That’s something you say to your eight year old if they clean their room up like you told them … it’s NOT something you say to a talented artist who just put on a great show for a couple hours! I wondered how I could possibly do anything more stupid than utter the phrase I just uttered, when I quickly found out.

I heard myself weakly mumble the same phrase again to the bass player trailing behind her, not wanting him to miss the incredible gift of my amazing eloquence.


Come to think of it, maybe there’s a reason I don’t go to live shows anymore….

Call It Done

Posted in Current Events, Music with tags , , , , , , on May 27, 2012 by greedycherry

Brooke ParrottA former classmate of mine from the Berklee College of Music, a talented young lady named Brooke Parrott, completed work on her sophomore CD entitled “Buried” not that long ago, and now is getting ready for the official release on June 1st.  Having supported the recording via a donation to her campaign on PledgeMusic (I like to support all the former classmates I can who are making great music whenever I am able), I feel a little word or two on my blog about her new EP is warranted. Word of mouth is so very important when it comes to getting one’s music out to the masses and heard (and hopefully purchased), so I want to do my part to spread the word. If you have a few moments after reading this (or maybe even while reading this), take a listen and support Brooke with a little cash-eesh if you like what you hear. Cool? Let’s get started….

The first time I heard this EP was a couple months back when I received the tracks via download because of my participation in her PledgeMusic campaign. I took a quick spin through the tracks, and one immediately jumped out at me…..the up-tempo and memorably melodic “Call It Done.” Kicking off with a little bit of rhythmic electric guitar, Brooke’s voice jumps in with a smooth delivery that doesn’t seem to move much in note choice for a line or two, belying the deft plunge into melody which is on the way. By the time the chorus kicks in and the bass joins the fun, there’s a hummable ditty that especially turns nicely on the phrase  “Let’s just quit while ahead, no one’s winning this one.”  And then when the hand claps kick in, fuhgeddaboutit. I’m a sucker for hand claps.

“Call It Done” never seems to lose momentum, and this could be due to the four-on-the-floor bass drum that’s present throughout the majority of the song, but I think that the trick’s in the arrangement. Follow the progression here: the song begins sparsely and the bass doesn’t kick in until the first chorus; a heavier drum sound is added at the beginning of the second verse; hand claps hit on the second chorus and stay throughout the sparser-feeling bridge and the third verse; and things build ever so slightly as she launches into the last chorus, where her voice is doubled in a more obvious way than on previous choruses, thickening the sound until a unison chorus of other voices kick in behind her on a second go-round. I’m a big fan of good arranging, and I think this is a pretty good example of fabulous execution. Take a listen to the song on her website and see if you don’t become hooked on this tasty little tune!

"Buried" by Brooke ParrottOf course, that’s not to say that the rest of the songs on the EP are bad….nowhere near it. It’s just that on any record I’ve ever listened to (and I’m sure it’s the same for all of you), there’s always one song that leaps out at you….one that’s your favorite. And with the “Buried” EP, “Call It Done” is that song for me.

Having said that, I received my advance hard copy of the CD this past week and decided to take another listen while looking over the whole package. Actually, if you’d be so kind, allow me a diversion here: no matter how many downloads anyone ever offers me, there’s nothing I appreciate more than holding a tangible item in my hand, a finished product that speaks to a total artistic experience and the realization of a vision. I mean, it’s bad enough we have mostly lost the lovely canvas that was the 12″ vinyl album….do we have to lose our CD booklets too? Or maybe I’m just the only person left in the world who likes reading the credits of an album and seeing who played on it and where it was recorded, etc…..

Sigh. Anyway, regardless of that little off-the-cuff rant, here’s a quick word about the rest of the songs, all of which are quite good:

  • “Head Over Heart” – An atmospheric opening number that brought to mind the ambient music of Tennessee-based group Hammock. The vibe suits Brooke’s voice like a glove.
  • “Wanting” – A lovely ballad where Brooke’s piano becomes a bit more prominent, but the heartfelt vocal performance outshines everything. If you’re a Tift Merritt fan, especially of her early work, you may find the track reminiscent of “Sunday”.
  • “If You Don’t Know” – One of my favorite sounds, the hammond organ, augments this song, which contains a unique drum rhythm on the verses, a half-time bridge, and a bouncy chorus.
  • “Waterproof” – Loping and dirge-like for a good part of the song (which is in a waltz-like 3/4), this track caught my attention due to the drums as well, with somber drum rolls marching each verse toward the gallows and a solid crack on the “&” of 1 and the 3 of each measure of the chorus.
  • “Buried” – I found it odd that the title track was the last song, but, upon listening, it certainly feels right to make this the closer. An intimate piece featuring Brooke’s voice and piano, this is best listened to in a quiet room…..the ending needs the space and silence to hang in the air, and you’ll be inclined to keep your eyes closed and just sit for a few moments after it’s over. Great ending to a CD.

Anyway, the EP will be available for purchase on Friday, so if you liked the preview you heard on her website, I would encourage you to return at that time to make a purchase and support a great songwriter. And if you really like what you hear, I would also suggest heading over to Brooke’s CDBaby page and snagging a copy of her debut full-length CD, “Another City”. I can’t see how you’d possibly regret it.

See? I told you my next blog entry wouldn’t be an obituary!  🙂