Tift Merritt has been producing a rather fine brand of Americana since first releasing Bramble Rose back in 2002. Late last year she released her fifth album Travelling Alone, so we weren’t expecting her back so soon, and certainly weren’t expecting her to be working in collaboration with classical pianist Simone Dinnerstein.
Night was borne of a meeting between the two when Merritt interviewed Dinnerstein for a radio show back in 2008. Having become fast friends interested in each other’s working processes, they decided to combine them and have been working on Night since 2010, hoping to create a record that can fuse the worlds of folk and classical music.
To that end Night includes a wide range of material, with a handful of songs written by Merritt and also including work ranging from Franz Schubert to Billie Holiday to JS Bach to Patty Griffin, the latter providing a specially written title track.
It’s an ambitious array of sounds to meld into one, and in truth there still feels something of a divide on much of the record. Much of the first half – featuring works by Schubert, Henry Purcell and Brad Mehldau – feels like it has a stronger classical bent, before the cover of country standard ‘Wayfaring Stranger’ heralds a second half featuring three of the four Merritt originals and a more rootsy feel.
The folk fan in me would call ‘Wayfaring Stranger’ one of the clear highlights of the record, and it really is, but where a fairly straight take on such a well-worn song, no matter how beautifully played, fits on a record intended to meld different styles is not entirely clear.
But while other projects have perhaps created more convincing fusions of seemingly diverse styles, Night is not short on things to like. First and foremost, there is the sheer pleasure to be gained from listening to such well-crafted music as this, delivered with style by skilled craftswomen. Much of Dinnerstein’s playing is divine, even if a lesson she claims to have taken from working with Merritt – ‘not to use too many notes’ – hasn’t been universally applied.
Opener ‘Only In Songs ‘, a Merritt composition, is a beautiful homage to the wonderful songs and the power their lyrics can hold over us, while ‘Still Not Home’ stands up there with her best compositions of recent times. Billie Holliday’s ‘Don’t Explain’ is performed with stunning precision.
But Patty Griffin’s title track was built to be the centrepiece of this record, even if it doesn’t feature until late in the running order. It stands out as the best thing here, a beautiful tune suited to both styles and building the most compelling case of the common thread running through them.