Tift Merritt is a critically acclaimed, Grammy-nominated singer and songwriter from North Carolina, out now with Stitch of the World, but another wonderful addition to an already impressive catalog.
Though often designated by others as a folk & Americana artist and commonly compared to Joni Mitchell and Emmylou Harris (quite often both in the same sentence), Merritt’s whole career has been marked by an eclectic approach to all kinds of music.
She started out in the local North Carolina alt-country scene, gradually winning the attention of fans and musicians alike alongside fellow Carolina native Ryan Adams. Adams would ultimately connect Merritt with his manager and help secure her first deal with Lost Highway. Ever since her 2002 debut, Bramble Rose, Merritt has challenged herself artistically, actively pursuing new directions and working with loads of different folks while maintaining her ridiculously high quality throughout.
For Stitch of the World, her second release on Yep Roc, Merritt looked inwards, calling upon her personal recollections from the time between 2012’s Traveling Alone and now. In doing so, Merritt created a record that marks both a musical and thematic departure from her previous work.
Since releasing Traveling Alone, Merritt had been on the road for two years, recorded and toured with classical pianist Simone Dinnerstein and joined Andrew Bird’s band. In her own words: “Suddenly, I was turning 40, getting divorced, and scared out of my mind. So I decided to take a year off the road to see what would happen to me if I just stopped touring… On a friend’s ranch in Marfa, Texas, in the middle of the high plains without a car headlight in sight, I did just that, and when I did, I started to do what I always do: the humble work of marking life by writing.”
And wrote she did: ‘What made my time off special was that I had a regular writing routine. I was private. I followed my heart and my craft. The story of being a writer is the story of being devoted over a long time.’
Come fall of 2016, Merritt found herself expecting a child with her boyfriend, recording with Hiss Golden Messenger and partnering up with Iron & Wine’s Sam Beam for the new album following the pair’s chance airport encounter.
Recorded in just four days at Ocean Way in California, the terrific Stitch of the World was produced by Beam and Tifts band, a band that also includes Marc Ribot (Tom Waits, Elvis Costello), Jay Bellerose (Sara Watkins, Punch Brothers), Jennifer Condos (Over the Rhine) and Eric Heywood (Pretenders, Son Volt).
As an artist who has most certainly put out her fair share of classic albums already, we invited Tift Merritt to present 5 albums that changed her life. She graciously returned with some interesting picks in addition to some lovely prose to match.
* * *
George Harrison: All Things Must Pass
I listened to this record so much in the early days of our band, on tour. The playing, the chords, the music are so creative, so beautiful. The lyrics are poems. I love that George was not the main writer for the Beatles, but had all of this elegance in the wings. Such a beautiful way to talk about an ending. What I take most is his spiritual hunger, that music and sound can be how one searches for meaning, for peace, for depth.
Emmylou Harris: Quarter Moon in a Ten Cent Town
I learned every song on this album. “Two More Bottles of Wine” and “One Paper Kid” were both in my earliest gig setlists when I was 19 or so. I remember searching for a female role model in music — When I found this record, everything started to make sense. Emmylou, Carole King, Kitty Wells — those were the women I wanted to be like and looked up to.
Delaney & Bonnie: Home
This record really influenced my writing after Bramble Rose. I love the loose, earthy feels. The players are mostly Stax house band, Steve Cropper! This record is teaming with good feel.
Bob Dylan: Blonde on Blonde
My dad gave me this record and it was in the cassette deck of my car turning over and over and over for a couple years straight. The power of the words as a driving force in a song really unlocked my mind about what kind of worlds could be made.
Joni Mitchell: Ladies of the Canyon
Talk about someone who is one of a kind. Her tone, her point of view, the worlds she makes, her raw power. Joni is inspiration on so many levels as a female, an artist, an individual. Her music really does sound like a painter made it. The chords are colorful and dissident and evocative in completely creative ways. This was a soundtrack to my a certain period in my life, but anytime I put it on even now it envelopes me.
Originally published on read.tidal, January 2017