Tift Merritt was born in Texas and raised in South Carolina in a family that thrived on music. Merritt played along with her dad from an early age, singing harmony to his lead vocals; her mom introduced her to poetry and the value of a good lyric. The combination made her one of the most literate songwriters in the roots/Americana scene. In the last few years, she has started to incorporate pop influences into her basic country/folk sound, but a new collaboration with classical pianist Simone Dinnerstein still seems like a stretch.
Although Night is being billed as some kind of classical/Americana hybrid, Merritt’s singing dominates most of the tracks, and even with Dinnerstein’s impressive playing, the sound isn’t that far from the usual singer-songwriter fare (except when its heavy dose of classical solemnity becomes a bit overbearing). Merritt brings the necessary passion to Purcell’s “Dido’s Lament,” an aching ode to mortality, and the Billie Holiday standard “Don’t Explain,” although Merritt never tries to match Holiday’s keening style and Dinnerstein keeps the tune firmly balanced in the jazzy Nina Simone arrangement. Folksy tunes like “Wayfaring Stranger” and Merritt’s own “Still Not Home” don’t sound much different than they would on a Merritt solo album. Dinnerstein only gets two solo spots: a two-minute excerpt from of Bach’s “Prelude in B Minor” and “The Cohen Variations,” a piece based on Leonard Cohen’s “Suzanne” that’s too serious for its own good. (Sony Classical)