This June will mark 15 years since Tift Merritt first unveiled the many charms of her revelatory debut album Bramble Rose. And while the milestone is sure to compel many of the North Carolina bred singer-songwriter’s devoted fans to dust off their copies and give them a celebratory spin, for me, the album’s anniversary is more a welcome reminder of the venerable career and endlessly enjoyable discography she has cultivated since her first LP surfaced back in 2002.
Contrary to the alt-country label she continues to be all too conveniently tagged with by far too many, Merritt’s five excellent studio albums to date instead reflect an ambitious, expansive artist untethered by such a limited musical scope. Even the most cursory listen to Bramble Rose, Tambourine (2004), Another Country (2008), See You on the Moon (2010) and Traveling Alone (2012) reveal her penchant for crafting timeless songs that can’t be so easily classified, lifting inspiration from country, folk, rock, R&B, blues and beyond.
Written and recorded amidst the aftermath of her divorce a few years ago, her recent move from New York City back to her hometown of Raleigh, and the birth of her first child last year, Merritt’s sixth studio album, Stitch of the World, is indeed a profoundly personal affair. But its core strength derives not from its autobiographical underpinnings, but rather from Merritt’s uncanny ability to process her own experiences and emotions within the context of the broader human condition.
“What strikes me most when I am writing these days is the changing nature of things,” Merritt recently confided in an official press statement. “Sometimes sex matters deeply, sometimes family eclipses all; sometimes aloneness is hell, sometimes it is a refuge. Sometimes hometowns are constricting; sometimes they are a sight for sore eyes. We do our damnedest. For all the times we are watered down and compromise, we can become rigid and impossible just as easily. We right ourselves as best we can and carry on. It is a loose thread that holds us best together in this life.” Across Stitch of the World’s ten songs, Merritt seems to find solace and strength in acknowledging that the reality of life’s vicissitudes is not reserved just for her, but rather it’s something we all have in common.
Nowhere is this more profoundly evident than on the album’s title track, which uses the metaphorical stitch as a clarion call to envelop oneself in the social and emotional fabric that binds all of us together, despite the ever-present temptation to recoil from the rest of the world. Merritt suggests that the human thread is a fragile one, but treated carefully and thoughtfully, it can be the key to enjoying—or at least enduring—life. In a similar vein, on the gorgeous piano and slide guitar blessed “Icarus,” she examines fallibility as fundamental to our common human experience, conceding that “There’s a wing down in each of us.”
Two of the album’s standout tracks can be interpreted through the lens of Merritt attempting to reconcile the dissolution of her marriage, but she once again frames her ruminations in more universal terms. On the plaintive, piano-driven “Heartache is an Uphill Climb,” which morphs into a rocking redemption song midway through, Merritt’s voice is noticeably more fragile, as she processes heartbreak “step by step” and recognizes that it “takes time, time, time.” The inspired “Love Soldiers On” examines the resilience of love, no matter how ragged and beaten-down it may become over time, with Merritt declaring, “You think that love is lost / You swear you’ve run it off / But it don’t ask for nothing / it’s got courage like the wind / Out between the streetlights / waiting to come in.”
Other highlights include album opener “Dusty Old Man,” a whimsical, chugging stomper of a tune that channels ‘70s era Bonnie Raitt and Emmylou Harris, its infectious energy and sass matched only by the equally impassioned “Proclamation Blues” in Stitch’s latter half. The album concludes with a trio of songs that feature the vocal pairing of Merritt and Sam Beam (a.k.a. Iron & Wine), with the hauntingly gorgeous “Eastern Light” and evocative, multi-layered ode to renewal “Wait For Me” arguably the finest songs across the album.
For as wonderful as the aforementioned Bramble Rose was upon first listen and still is to this day, Merritt’s career and discography have proven that her acclaimed debut was only the tip of the iceberg for this consummate, never-complacent artist. Indeed, while other artists’ creative peaks often arrive early in their careers only to prove ephemeral, Merritt has seemingly, and rather incredulously, been hitting her stride for a decade and a half now. Without question, Stitch of the World stands as a vital new component of her ever-evolving repertoire, while further cementing its creator’s deserved reputation as one of her generation’s most unassumingly gifted and graceful songwriters.
Notable Tracks: “Dusty Old Man” | “Eastern Light” | “Heartache is an Uphill Climb” | “Love Soldiers On” | “Wait For Me”
SEE Tift Merritt on tour now | Dates