Simone Dinnerstein & Tif Merritt
Tift Merritt was born in Houston, Texas, but was transplanted in North Carolina where she was raised and completed her formal education in creative writing. From background checks, her father appears to be the major influence on her music, but that would be a bit simplistic. With nine albums to her credit the influences covered are diverse and wide. Merritt seems to have absorbed the best of folk, rock and country and somehow found her own voice within all that data. She is a player working on piano, keys, guitar, harmonica and her distinctive vocal style.
Simone Dinnerstein is New York based, Julliard trained pianist with a deep classical background, making her mark in that world with her release of Bach’s Goldberg Variations. She has three other classical releases to her credit and from a bit of background research and from listening it is easy to see why she made such a huge impression in that community of players and listeners.
From research material both artists are very much into collaboration, which in my world means listening to and honoring the tune at hand. They met in 2008 and have been working on honing a new sound for both of the palettes. Merritt has the Americana approach with her influences while Dinnerstein brings a sophistication and a beautifully played instrument to their collective table.
Six tracks fill this EP with a wide diversification of material. Two of the tunes are Merrits, “Still Not Home” & “Colors”. There is a traditional cover of “Wayfaring Stranger” as well as “Night” a Patty Griffin tune. Johnny Nash’s, “I Can See Clearly Now” is covered as well as Lady Day’s (Billy Holiday), “Don’t Explain”, which was arranged by the wonderful Nina Simone.
Merritt’s first track commences with a lone guitar riff as well as a stark, clear, distinct vocal clearly showcasing her roots in Americana. With the second track the duo sets in for the upcoming tracks. What I like in Tift’s vocals is a vulnerability that she is willing to share with her listening audience. Dinnerstein’s piano gently embellishes her approach and lyric. Simone listens and adds to, never distracting from the tenderness or the tale, which is a much underrated attribute in music these days. The inter play between the vocal, guitar and piano is a delicate balance that is glaring in the tender ballad of “Colors”. “Wayfaring Stranger” is again handled with care as it gently appears with Merritt’s vocal and guitar. This track appears to be a solo cut, if Dinnerstein is working on the track her pads are almost invisible. Griffin’s tune is the first to highlight the piano and vocal, which works beautifully. Patty Griffin must be proud of the representation and care given to her work.
Nash’s tune is lightly approached with guitar and vocal. As Dinnerstein enters with her piano the tune transforms from a pop anthem to a wonderfully balanced piece somewhere between folk and a tune played in a dimly lit club somewhere between the second or last tune of a set. I like the smoky feel it gains with the piano.
If these two artists continue to hone and listen to their hearts and risk with material like this cut, there could be a long career ahead for both artists with this vehicle.
[Christopher Brant Anderson]