Photo Credit Jason Frank Rothenberg
by Ruth Eckles
I first met Tift Merritt years ago, way before she became well-known, at an open mike in Pittsboro, North Carolina. She quietly walked onstage holding a Guild guitar, shyly introduced herself, sat down on a metal folding chair, and proceeded to blow the crowd away. She had a bright presence and a powerful, soulful voice.
It was a little shocking, actually, that such a voluminous sound could come out of someone so small. Whatever she sang about, it was clear that she meant it, dammit.
After the performances were over, I went over to tell her how much I enjoyed her music. We got together a few times and played music out in the country, on the sun-dappled porch of her duplex. She gave me a homemade cassette tape she’d mixed. On one side were all her favorite artists, including Bob Dylan, Ray Charles, Emmylou Harris, Dusty Springfield, Aretha Franklin, Tom Waits, and Johnny Cash. On the other side were her own country roots songs, made at home on her four-track with the help of a shiny red electric guitar.  There were also moody, complex, languishing piano instrumentals that made me feel things I couldn’t quite name. She’d never taken piano lessons. Even now, those songs still hold water.
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