Tift Merritt – Stitch of the World
By Rob Dickens
Tift Merritt’s new album Stitch of the World (Yep Roc Records) is her sixth studio release and follows the acclaimed Traveling Alone (2012).
Since that last release, the Grammy and Americana Award-nominated Merritt has been recording and touring with Andrew Bird, Hiss Golden Messenger and classical pianist Simone Dinnerstein.
The new group of songs were written in the wake of several major changes in her life and were penned in three locations – on a friend’s farm in Marfa Texas, at Merritt’s California cabin and in New York City. Merritt workshopped the songs with long-time friend Sam Beam (Iron & Wine) after an accidental meeting in an airport. The album was recorded in Los Angeles while Merritt was six months pregnant, after which she relocated to her hometown of Raleigh, North Carolina.
We soon know that we are in for something different here as the opening track ‘Dusty Old Man’ is quite a departure from what we might have expected. The song is a thumping, bluesy boogie with striking guitar from Marc Ribot and pedal steel from long-time colleague Eric Heywood. Their contributions are terrific here and, in fact, throughout the collection. The rhythm section of Jay Bellerose and Jennifer Condos are also excellent and, with Beam’s additions, they form a formidable coterie.
In the California cabin Merritt worked hard on her song-writing each morning and took on some exhausting hiking in the afternoons. ‘Heartache Is An Uphill Climb’ is a quiet, determined song which comes out of scaling an unforgivingly-steep incline. Musically, it builds impressively behind Merritt’s passionate vocals.
‘My Boat’ is based on Raymond Carver’s works and is an enthusiastic invitation to join her “no one will be denied…just having a real good time…on my boat”. ‘Love Soldiers On’ came out of watching ranch hands maintain a strict work routine and considers the pros in persisting with your craft and feelings no matter what happens. Crisp arrangements are a feature here.
‘Stitch of the World’ is a delicate encounter and ‘Icarus’, which was inspired by watching birds learn to fly, contains a hypnotic, falling melody which is an undoubted highlight. ‘Proclamation Bones’ is an electric rolling and scrambling testament to nature’s secret nightlife with the players combining brilliantly.
The reflective ‘Something Came Over Me’ was written in New York City arising from an unexpectedly joyous moment and Merritt’s vocals combine ideally with Beam (he collaborates on the last three tracks). Emotions turn rapidly in ‘Eastern Light’, looking out at the NYC’s East River and thinking about loss, fragility and disappointment. It is another well-crafted song.
The closing track ‘Wait For Me’ is a fine ending, another feature. It is a hankering that we should spend more time thinking about the good things up ahead rather than be bogged down with the past. The production was shared between Merritt and Beam and you will find no better example of their consummate skills than this track.
It is been quite a wait for Tift Merritt’s newest offering and, following up such a well-received predecessor, brings with it some degree of risk in not measuring up. No question here. Stitch of The World stacks up as well as anything this highly-talented artist has done before. It is both mesmerising and powerful.