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>> TIFT MERRITT HAS A NEW CITY AND A NEW ALBUM
Tift Merritt is coming to The Birchmere

 Tift Merritt no longer lives in the South but is still inspired by her Carolina hometown.
Parker Fitzgerald
Visit the Photo Place
Date published: 10/4/2012

BY ANDREW LEAHEY

FOR THE FREE LANCE-STAR

It's been half a decade since Tift Merritt left her hometown of Raleigh, N.C., and moved to Paris.

She'd been traveling for years, playing shows with Americana artists like Ryan Adams and generating a buzz with her own music. She had always gone home between tours, though. For a songwriter whose songs always seemed to evoke the rolling countryside of Southern America, leaving North Carolina was a big deal.

You can take the girl out of the South, but you can't take the South out of the girl. Now based in New York City, Merritt said she still channels her hometown when writing albums like "Traveling Alone," her newest collection of earthy, atmospheric country-rock tunes.

"Being from the South is a huge part of who I am," she explained last week during a break in the fall tour that will take her to The Birchmere in Alexandria Oct. 8.

"I'm very intensely tied to that place in North Carolina, and I think living in New York City actually brings out my Southernness even more. I call my street 'Little North Carolina' because I know everybody."

Merritt knows music, too. Raised on the folk, country and soul records that filled her father's record collection, she's grown into Generation X's own Emmylou Harris, with a tougher edge and a louder band. Everyone from the Drive-By Truckers to Patty Griffin has invited her to join them on tour, a sign that Merritt can hold her own in a rock club as well as a folk venue.

Merritt's sound is unique, driven by acoustic guitar chords one minute and twangy, amplified riffs the next. It grooves, soothes and rocks in equal measure, and it's in particularly fine form on the new record, which hit stores this week.

"Traveling Alone" was recorded in eight days. There was little time for second guesses, and even less time for overdubs. Merritt and her band captured each song live, as though they were playing in a concert hall instead of a studio. The result is a lean, gorgeous album that logically flows from song to song like a live setlist.


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What: Tift Merritt and her band with The Pines Where: The Birchmere, 3701 Mount Vernon Ave., Alexandria. When: Monday, Oct. 8, at 7:30 p.m. Cost: $25 Info: birchmere.com; tift merritt.com