Tift Merritt’s fantastic new album, Stitch of the World, perfectly represents the depth of her voice and songwriting that so many fans have come to know and love over the past 15 years. There is a thread through these songs of confidence and control while being pulled emotionally in different directions–some good, some not so good. It’s that tension that makes these songs so interesting and compelling: the songs are evocative rather than narrative and reflect a clear groundedness even when the ground shifts.
“Heartache is an Uphill Climb,” for example, begins somberly and ends defiantly, echoing the determination and resilience the song evokes. Merritt’s voice follows a similar path on the song, breaking perfectly on the first verse and belting out the last. On “Icarus,” one of the real gems in this collection, Merritt sings, “Oh, Icarus, there’s a wing down in each of us, / Faster than the speed of sound. Inside, everything flies.” There is so much in these lines–empathy, longing, possibility, experience–but they are so spare; the economy of Merritt’s lyrics is really stunning, and she finds different and nuanced ways to deliver each chorus.
The title track is perhaps the most musically interesting, with a hypnotic melody and distorted guitars that convey a sense of mystery and humility about our place in the world.
Sam Beam (of Iron and Wine) co-produced the album with Merritt, and he is featured on the last three songs. He complements her voice exceptionally well–their duets are understated and unforced. On “Eastern Light,” they sing, “And still my shadow’s waiting for you, like it always used to / Hanging around and looking behind me, so that you can find me.” I love the duality in this song that is present in so much of the album: does she want to wait, or is something subconscious at play here; and should she wait? The final track, “Wait for Me,” plays on a narrative of driving west in search of “something I ain’t found yet.” The chorus, “I wanna do right by my baby, and my baby wanna do right by me,” is so powerfully delivered, as if that’s all that matters in the world. And I guess it is.
This album is a great start to 2017. So many of my favorite 2016 records came out of Raleigh/Durham, NC (Tift actually sang on one of them) and Stitch of the World will get plenty of rotations this year. Tift will be at Club Passim on April 2, playing two shows, at 5:00 and 8:00. You can order Stitch of the World here.