Heartfelt, Rootsy Folk Rock
As an accomplished and renowned artist in alt-country and indie folk circles, singer-songwriter Tift Merritt doesn’t have anything left to prove to the music world about her talents and style. But this doesn’t mean that her heart and soul aren’t still being poured into her work. Her latest album, Stitch of the World, is a lush and lovely chapter in her ongoing story, one that features moving and emotional ballads, rollicking blues moments and a rough-around-the-edges type of tenderness.
The rawness and complexity are clear from the outset, as woodblock-sounding, backup, auxiliary rhythms kick in on album opener “Dusty Old Man.” The song’s a profile of a man who is “mean as a snake,” but there is nothing mean about this sound, which is instantly warm and familiar. On track two, Merritt lets the soulful part of her voice shine in a beautiful, uplifting track about overcoming odds. “Heartache is an uphill climb,” she says, while letting piano chords and meaty guitar parts overlap each other in a slow build to a climactic chorus.
However it may ache at some times, Merritt’s heart is at its most open on “My Boat,” a touching tribute to those she loves and the way she wants to take them with her everywhere. It’s a little slice of paradise that she describes as the kind where everyone is happy, safe and together in a journey. And it’s the kind of song that would make for an excellent live performance, with layered strings and echoes, plus the titular hook.
On “Stitch of the World,” Merritt plays with melodies and structures that sound almost medieval, only to be cut with full-bodied guitars and some prog-sounding solos. “Icarus” offers a stunning midpoint, opening with soft and subtle keys. It features some of Merritt’s most emotional observations on love and life. On tracks like this, Merritt embraces folk more than blues, playing to her strengths and letting the feel drive the song.
But then “Proclamation Bones” returns to the full-band bluesy feel that characterized the album’s opening segments, again with thumping rhythms to decorate the track. “The fate of my heart is unclear,” she sings, “so why don’t you come meet me here?” offering yet another glimpse into Merritt’s journey.
Much of Stitch of the World feels nostalgic – not just because Merritt is so often reflective – but because of its warm tones, full-band approach and gentle strumming and plucking. It is easy to see why she has played with artists like Hiss Golden Messenger and Andrew Bird, as her style has a tried-and-true quality that would enhance any folk or alt-country landscape.
A few of Stitch of the World‘s tracks feature Sam Beam (of Iron and Wine) on back-up vocals. His delicate vocal quality is nicely layered on top of Merritt’s, further bringing out her own sweetness and softness. Album closer “Wait for Me” is a memorable slow burn, with Beam’s instantly identifiable voice leading into the outro.
There’s a raspy warble to Merritt’s voice, and a traditional, rootsy attention to detail in composition that affords her music a classic quality. The trickling of mandolin, aching wine of pedal steel, slowly bowed fiddles and delicate backing vocals bring Merritt’s work to vibrant life. While some singer-songwriters are strictly dedicated to a solo project, Merritt comes across as the type of artist who brings the whole crew along for the ride, and the result on Stitch of the World is a full-fledged and expertly crafted record.