Live Review

Tift Merritt - Stitching past and present together

Tift Merritt on January 31, 2017

Tift wondering just how wet will it be when she gets to London (Credit: Alexandra Valenti)

Aside from Suzy Bogguss, Tift Merritt must be the most personable musician currently performing That is no slight to others such as Rosanne Cash, Gretchen Peters, Mary-Chapin Carpenter and more who are all undoubtedly warm and welcoming, but they don’t quite have the deftness and lightness of touch that Tift possesses. On top of that she has an ever deepening catalogue of excellent music to draw on in her shows. And it is after all the music that drew us out.

So with all that in her favour it should come as no surprise to say that we had a wonderful evening’s entertainment from Tift on a miserable, wet London night.

It’s sad to report that Tift was playing The Lexington. This is a room above a pub in Islington. It’s got a capacity of about 200, which is slightly smaller than The Borderline where I first saw her back in 2002. But a few years out of the public eye means that her career has gone backwards in terms of her profile, given that the last time she played London, back in 2012, she played Islington Town Hall, not far from where we were on Tuesday, which can take up to 800.

But the public’s loss is our gain as we’re back to a very intimate, if crowded and hot venue. Its a bit like a big family gathering. We’re the people who remember and want to enjoy the pleasure of her company

Tift immediately gets a gold star for coming on five minutes early. On a work night, these things count a lot with me. She’s accompanied by Eric Heywood on pedal steel and acoustic guitars, who provides wonderfully tasteful accompaniment throughout the evening. His playing really helps fill the sound, giving the songs really lovely, rich textures.

There’s a new album, Stitch Of The World, to promote and most of the set is taken from it. I’ve managed to listen to it a few times since it came out last Friday and most of the songs are at least passingly familiar. My immediate favourite Icarus comes early in the set and is gorgeous, as is the title track of the new album, while another early highlight is Another Country.

We also get a couple of acoustic interludes which is a slight variation in that Tift and Eric both sit around a single mic and perform songs rather than across the stage from each other - the first time they do Dusty Old Man, My Boat and Travelling Alone and for the second they give us Feel Of The World and All The Reasons We Have to Fight.

What Tift and Eric bring home is that two people can create a beautiful sound that can transport you to a magical place where time seems suspended.

The evening ends with an encore of Bramble Rose. Just Tift and her guitar. A few more minutes of magic, a few moments of nostalgia as I think back to that first gig 15 years ago and then its over and back out onto dark, damp London streets.

Hopefully it won’t be another five years until the next time.

A note for any guitar lovers out there about Tift’s red Gibson, which has been played so robustly over the years that Tift had à la Willie Nelson worn holes in body. The guitar now has a extended scratch plate to cover that area. She also has a new Gibson, which only came out for a couple of songs. At the moment it looks perfectly healthy and unscratched.