Tift Merritt occupies an odd place in the country music paradigm. She's adorable and her band is polished as a Turtle Waxed Corvair, which is ideal in some settings but made for an awkward fit back when I saw her play Blueberry Hill's Duck Room in St. Louis with Tres Chicas, Caitlin (Whiskeytown) Cary's three-piece which was way more the basement bar's speed. Conversely, Merritt lacks the majesty to enrapture a large crowd, which was evident when I saw her open for Elvis Costello in Denver five years ago.
But last night at the Tractor, the pixie-like Carolina towhead shed all awkwardness and left a respectably-sized--especially for a Tuesday--crowd enthralled.
Two-thirds of the way through the show, Merritt dismissed the bulk of her band and either flew solo or dueted on a quartet of tunes, including "Sunday," the best song from her debut album. She claimed not to have played it in quite some time, and a pair of rocky starts fraught with lyric amnesia seemed to back this up. But once she got churning, it was pure angelic blues.
Merritt's married to her drummer. This is great for her, great for her drummer, and, in most cases, great for her fans. But sooner or later, it'd be nice to see her take to the road alone, as it'd be wondrous to see what sort of traction she could get by giving herself no choice but to let her considerable talents hog every inch of the spotlight.