Simone Dinnerstein & Tift Merritt. Night.

Mention of marrying rock or pop music with the classical world tends to conjure up versions of caped and costumed prog rockers playing at demons and dungeons with strings attached. however there is a more refined strain that has a fine pedigree and which ditches the pomposity for a genuine desire to build bridges twixt the two, witness Phillip Glass’s album Song’s From Liquid Days or Elvis Costello’s link up with the Brodsky Quartet. Correct me if I’m wrong but I’m not aware of many Americana styled artists dipping their toes into this rarefied world but Tift Merritt has taken the plunge with Night, an album in collaboration with classical pianist Simone Dinnerstein. The pair met in 2008 and over the years have built up this collection of songs that feature some classical compositions (by Schubert, Purcell and Bach), Merritt originals and some specially commissioned pieces. The end result is a brave and on the whole, successful, listening experience that leans toward the classics while Merritt’s offerings are gracefully adorned by Dinnerstein’s impeccable playing. Merritt sings wonderfully with Dinnerstein on occasion abandoning the keys to hammer at the piano strings adding a dulcimer type effect. The glacial purity of these songs reminds one of Joni Mitchell at times while their version of an old Billy Holiday number, Don’t Explain has Merritt invoking the spirit of Holiday and Lotte Lenya on an arrangement that could have come from the pen of Kurt Weill. Merritt’s vocal contributions to Henry Purcell’s Dido’s Lament and Schubert’s Night and Dreams are hushed and reverent and if one was unaware of their provenance you could assume that she penned the lyrics. Dinnerstein has the opportunity to shine on the brief instrumental Prelude In B Minor from the Clavier Buchhlein (something I never thought I would type here) by Johann Sebastian Bach while her performance of The Cohen Variations, a solo piano piece based on laughing Lenny’s song Suzanne is, quite simply, sublime. They add a very fine version of Wayfaring Stranger and an excellent rendition of the traditional song I Will Give My Love an Apple that is so fragile that the listener is afraid to breathe in case it breaks. This sense of fragility pervades the album but it avoids being a clinical exercise or a demonstration of musical technique. The closing song, a cover of Johnny Nash’s I Can see Clearly Now is the only let down, perhaps because of its familiarity but it’s a song that cries out for some abandon and here it’s tightly reined in.

buy it here
Tift Merritt
Simone Dinnerstein

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