This is an unusual album on a lot of levels, born of the unlikely pairing of North Carolina folksinger and songwriter Tift Merritt (whose father taught her to play by ear) and Brooklyn classical pianist Simone Dinnerstein (Juilliard-trained), and given that it's a song cycle or symphony of sorts dedicated to night, and the deepest part of night at that, it would seem to be the perfect recipe for dreary pretension and artful pontifications. Well, Night isn't that, and it isn't exactly a folk album, either, or a classical one, but actually approaches a kind of sparse, airy pop, supported by only Dinnerstein's piano and Merritt's vocals, acoustic guitar, and harmonica. It definitely has a late-night feel, and it would almost be some kind of heresy to play this album on a bright, shiny day, unless it was right before the dawn of it. But somehow there's a brightness here, too, of the it's-always-darkest-before-the-dawn variety, and that's called hope, that after night comes day, that after darkness comes light. The album opens with a fine Merritt composition, the beautiful and wise "Only in Songs," which glides along on Merritt's unhurried Emmylou Harris-like voice, and one begins to realize that maybe this album isn't about night so much as it's nocturnal, full of a kind of cautious hush that still yearns and leans forward for the light. Other highlights on an album that is really all of a piece include a moving version of the traditional folk song "Wayfaring Stranger," Dinnerstein's "The Cohen Variations," which is built around variations on Leonard Cohen's song "Suzanne," and the set closer, a rather surprising cover of Johnny Nash's "I Can See Clearly Now," which leads the whole cycle out into the clearer light of daybreak. Somehow Night works as a treatise on its subject, a metaphor for traveling through darkness into the light, and a pleasing if low-key hymn to daily re-emergence and redemption. An unlikely pairing of artists leads here to an uncommon focus, and one gets the feeling that the duo might not be done. Surely an album called Day is called for to complete the cycle. ~ Steve Leggett