That said, the work of the Carbines does provide a nice frame for Bramble Rose's main attraction: Tift Merritt's voice. It's a versatile instrument that, like Maria McKee's, can bring to mind Dolly Parton one minute and a church-taught soul singer the next. (Speaking of McKee, the spunky "Neighborhood," Bramble Rose's one rocker, would have fit perfectly on Lone Justice's debut.) The mid-tempo pair of "Trouble Over Me" and "I Know Him Too" deftly travel the middle ground between the mountains and Muscle Shoals, and they succeed in making a strong impression.
But three songs make the album for me--three moments when the words, the voice and the mood all come together perfectly. "Bird of Freedom" (think The Stones in, ironically, "No Expectations" mode) finds Merritt stretching lyrically, and the listener gets to share in the exhilaration of being this close to overreaching. The album-capping "When I Cross Over" is an impossibly lovely country-gospel number. And the heart of Bramble Rose is "Sunday," a hushed powerhouse that I can imagine Aretha Franklin considering when she hit fame, albeit briefly, for the '67 session that birthed "I Never Loved a Man (The Way I Love You)." Merritt creates a deceptively simple scene--"I'm gonna leave the windows open/When I feel like getting dressed"--that speaks volumes.
In just the time it's taken to write this, I've started to rethink the opening. In a Sheryl Crow world, maybe it only takes three stunning songs to make a masterpiece.