Category Archives: Tift Merritt

Tift Merritt: An Idea of Order at the World Cafe Live (Philly 3/29/17)

Tift Merritt delivered a spellbinding set at the World Cafe Live in Philadelphia on Wednesday that was bookended by two sublime tunes from her wondrous 2017 Stitch of the World album: “Wait for Me” and “Love Soldiers On.”

In between was a torrent of memorable new songs – “Dusty Old Man,” “Heartache Is an Uphill Climb,” “My Boat,” “Stitch of the World,” “Icarus,” “Proclamation Bones,” “Something Came Over Me” and “Eastern Light” – and a sprinkling of past classics, including “Traveling Alone” and “Small Talk Relations” (from her 2012 Traveling Alone album); “Feel of the World” and “All the Reasons We Don’t Have to Fight” (from her 2010 See You on the Moon album); “Good Hearted Man” from her 2004 sophomore set, Tamborine; and the title track to her 2002 debut, Bramble Rose, which she joked would be on her tombstone.

As the above videos demonstrate, she was simply magnetic. Her voice was sure, strong and (as always) sweet despite a slight case of the sniffles. She alternated between acoustic guitar (several, actually) and keyboards except for “Proclamation Bones,” when she chopped chords with an electric axe. Joining her on stage was her beau Eric Heywood, whose credits include Son Volt, the Pretenders, Jayhawks and Ray LaMontagne. He played steel guitar most of the night, but joined her on acoustic for a few mid-set sit-down songs.

During “Icarus,” based on the Greek myth, it occurred to me – and not for the first time – that music artists and their audiences are somewhat akin to the singer and narrator in “The Idea of Order at Key West.” If you’re unfamiliar with the 1934 poem by Wallace Stevens, don’t worry; it just means that you weren’t an English major. I should mention that I’m decades removed from those years, so I’m sure I’m off in my analysis. But, in it, the narrator and a friend observe a woman singing beside the sea at dusk – and from that simple scene comes an insight into the human experience: we instill a semblance of order on a world that is, in fact, beyond our control; and that semblance has a ripple effect on those who surround us.

That’s my short and sloppy take, at any rate.

To continue in that vein: the artist is the “single artificer of the world,” creating a reality that is his or hers alone, though others can observe and be profoundly moved by it – which is what occurs to the narrator of the poem, as the sixth stanza indicates. Stevens takes it a step further in the poem’s last lines, however, when he introduces the “blessed rage for order” – the semblance of control that comes from the singer seemingly channeling the sea (when, of course, she could and did not).

 

This night, in a sense, Tift Merritt was that (far more articulate) singer by the sea, conveying the “ghostlier demarcations” and “keener sounds” that reveal “ourselves” and “our origins.” For a brief time, she infused order and beauty into an unordered and, all too often, ugly world.

Or something like that.

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The Essentials: Tift Merritt – Another Country

As noted in my first Essentials entry, this is an occasional series in which I spotlight albums that, in my estimation, everyone should experience at least once.)

There’s but three criteria that I use when selecting my “essential” recommendations. They have to be at least five years old; they have to be excellent from start to finish; and they have to be albums that I think everyone should hear, at least once. Why five years? Because, otherwise, many picks would be drawn from my current obsessions, a few of which – as the weeks morph into months – prove to be fleeting. But if it’s something I’ve returned to, time and again, over a period of years… that says something, right there, I think.

tiftmerritt_stitchoftheworldThat said, Tift Merritt’s new Stitch of the World is a tremendous effort that will more than likely be in the running for my 2017 Album(s) of the Year selections come December. While we listened to it earlier today, me for probably the 10th time this week, Diane noted that certain songs would’ve been at home on Linda Ronstadt’s Heart Like a Wheel – or, I’d add, Emmylou Harris’ Luxury Liner. I.e., there’s a timelessness about them. And if my hunch about Stitch of the World comes to pass, it won’t be the first time that the North Carolina songbird has flown to the top of my personal charts. In 2012, her heralded Traveling Alone was an honorable mention; and in 2010, thanks to a technical foul of sorts (Rumer’s Seasons of My Soul had yet to be released in the U.S.), she perched at the top with her sublime See You on the Moon, which features such wondrous tunes as “Mixtape,” “Engine to Turn” and “Feel of the World.”

I’ve returned to both albums many times in the years since their releases and, in fact, ranked See You on the Moon as her best work to date for quite some time. Yet, when I choose to listen to something by Tift now, it’s not my first pick – Another Country, my No. 2 for 2008, is that.

Following the release of her previous, Grammy Award-nominated album, Tambourine (2004), she embarked on a world tour that, from what she said in interviews promoting Another Country, left her worn-out. So she took a much-deserved break and relocated to Paris, where she rented an apartment that came with a piano. The result: an album for the ages.

As I wrote back in 2008, “It’s plaintive, yearning and hopeful, often in the same song, and reminds me of everything good from the third Flying Burrito Brothers album, the one when Rick Roberts joined the fold with the majestic ‘Colorado.’ ‘I think I will break/but I mend,’ she sings – like an Americana songbird, I should mention – on the meditative ‘Broken.’”

Another highlight: “Hopes Too High,” which sounds to my ears like an outtake from that Flying Burrito Brothers album…

The piece d’resistance, however, is what may well be the greatest epiphany-set-to-music yet written: “I Know What I’m Looking for Now.”

Rather than link to Apple Music or Spotify… here the album is, in full, via YouTube:

Albums of the Year, 2010

“Album of the Year” – it’s an honorific I’ve bestowed on one album every year since 1978. The candidates are drawn from what I’ve purchased, so the pool is decidedly limited in comparison to, say, what the writers at Rolling Stone or Allmusic.com are exposed to. Some years I buy a lot and some years not, primarily due to my listening habits – I play albums I love over and over and over until they become one with my subconscious (obsession, not variety, is my spice of life). So the more I like certain albums, the less overall I hear.

My No. 1 and 2 albums of 2009, Diane Birch’s Bible Belt and Melody Gardot’s My One and Only Thrill hung around through the early part of 2010. And then, as always happens, certain new albums caught my ear, heart and soul.

My fifth runner-up is courtesy of The School, a group from Wales that echoes its influences in the grooves (and bytes) of its debut album, Loveless Unbeliever. It’s a pure shot of upbeat retro-pop sure to cure the foulest of moods.

No. 4 is Natalie Merchant’s Leave Your Sleep, a two-disc collection of classic poems and nursery rhymes set to Natalie’s melodies. At its best, it’s sheer brilliance in song – e.e. cummings’ “maggie and milly and molly and mae,” for example.

My No. 3 album is courtesy of an artist who’s been one of my favorites since 1980: Neil Young. The solo (but not all acoustic) Le Noise is a stark, rumbling collection of strong songs, as evidenced by “Angry World” and “Love and War.”

 

The final runner-up: Seasons of the Soul by Rumer. If you haven’t heard of her, she’s a British singer-songwriter whose lush, atmospheric Burt Bacharach-inspired music will (hopefully) consume you. “Slow” and “Aretha” are just two of the standout tracks. In fact, I’ve become so enamored of it that it almost became my No. 1. The only reason it didn’t? It’s yet to be released in the States. So, technically speaking, it’s not an official release and shouldn’t be considered for the top honor.

And, with that, my Album of the Year for 2010 is… Well, let’s start here: Yesterday morning, on my way to work, I circled my thumb around my iPod’s magic wheel and skipped from the Rs to the Ts and clicked on Tift Merritt, whose See You on the Moon consumed my attention for much of the spring and early summer. The North Carolina songbird’s literate lyrics and sublime melodies conjure the singer-songwriter era of the 1970s in that her songs are well-crafted, complete and utterly addictive. Her last studio album, the inspired Another Country in 2008, became one of my favorites of that year, ranking No. 2 on my end-of-year list. See You on the Moon is one step better, the audio equivalent of a Jayne Anne Philips short-story collection. “Mixtape,” an ode to analog playlists, and “Engine to Turn” are two highlights, but – as with all good albums – every song is a gem.