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5.0 out of 5 stars A Genre Bending Musical Collaboration Between Two Friends Across the Musical Spectrum, 2 April 2013
This review is from: Night (MP3 Download)
"Night" is a remarkable achievement from a most unlikely pair of friends, Julliard-trained classical pianist Simone Dinnerstein and alt country singer-songwriter Tift Merritt. It is an album replete with songs of "solemn intimacy", to quote a National Public Radio commentator, which invite the listener to listen further, as though these were performed live in the sanctuary of the listener's own room; a musical dialogue between two close friends whose musical roots stretch from American bluegrass, folk and country music (Merritt) to folk and classical music (Dinnerstein). Opening with a song composed and sung by singer Tift Merritt on guitar, a lament about the meaning of songs ("Only in Songs"), with Simone Dinnerstein joining towards the end, "Night" segues almost instantaneously into a Schubert lied ("Night and Dreams") sung in English by Merritt, with a brief interlude by her on harmonica that is an unorthodox, yet surprisingly appropriate, addition, with Dinnerstein a most sympathetic accompanist. Merritt doesn't try changing her style of singing from song to song, whether it is her own country music compositions, jazz, folk and rock songs or the Schubert lied, sounding as though she could be Edith Piaf - if Piaf had sung in English - in a soft voice pregnant with despair and longing, especially on the songs "Night and Dreams", "Don't Explain", "Dido's Lament", "I Shall Weep At Night" (composed for this album by Brad Mehldau), "Wayfaring Stranger", "I Will Give My Love An Apple", and "Night" (composed for this album by Patty Griffin). Merritt's singing will not only remind knowledgeable listeners of Edith Piaf, but also, Suzanne Vega too; the latter especially on "Night". She returns to her alt country sound in her song "Still Not Home" that she sings, accompanied only by herself on acoustic guitar, and her folk rock tunes "Colors", and "Feel of the World", playing guitar and joined again by Dinnerstein on the piano, in a style distinctively her own, yet one worthy of favorable comparison with the likes of celebrated country singer-songwriters Mary Chapin Carpenter and Lucinda Williams.

Dinnerstein, Merritt and the producers of "Night" deserve recognition for their fine sequencing of these songs; each following another as if they comprised a song cycle composed by one composer; a latter day Franz Schubert or Kurt Weill familiar with folk, country, jazz and rock, as well as classical music. Interspersed between the collaborative efforts of both musicians are the solo performances by Dinnerstein of a Bach Prelude in B Minor and Dan Felsensfeld's "Cohen Variations"; this piece, commissioned by Dinnerstein and inspired by one of her favorite Leonard Cohen songs, "Suzanne", emphasizes not only the technical brilliance of her playing, but also, its often nuanced, quite textured, emotional complexity for which she has earned ample admiration as a "high priestess" of the classical piano as though she is a younger Rosalyn Tureck or Martha Argerich, in a repertoire that stretches from J. S. Bach, Beethoven and Schubert to Felsenfeld and Nico Muhly. The album closes on a most triumphant note with Dinnerstein and Merritt on their respective instruments, with Merritt's voice transforming John Nash's "I Can See Clearly Now" into a folk rock anthem. Recorded in the very American Academy of Arts and Letters auditorium - long a favorite of classical musicians as a recording studio for its superior acoustics - that Simone Dinnerstein rented to record her celebrated "Goldberg Variations" album, "Night" should merit ample crossover appeal not only from fans of Dinnerstein and Merritt, but from a potentially vast audience comprised of folk, country, rock, and jazz fans; it is an album worthy of attention for other, more traditional, listeners of classical music too, especially when this is a memorable song cycle performed by two exceptional musicians from opposite ends of the musical spectrum.
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