Archive for the ‘Tift Merritt’ Category

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:

“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 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.

It’s that time of year: best of this, best of that, yadda, yadda, yadda. Depending on the subjects, and who writes them, such lists can be frightening, maddening or, worst of all, predictable and boring. Hopefully my contribution to the cacophony isn’t any of those.

First off, it’s not a list. It’s a top pick and a few runners-up. I lay no claim that they’re truly the “best” or perfect for everyone, as adjudicating music is – though some may be loathe to admit it – a wholly subjective process. Which new releases did I buy in the past year? Which ones did I play the most? Which one(s) could I not live without? That, in a nutshell, is the criteria I use. Highfalutin analysis, in other words, it ain’t. Breaking down meters and rhymes and obtuse lines about love, lust, war and more leaves me cold. What matters is whether the songs percolate through the heart and mind long after you’ve turned off the computer, MP3 player or stereo.

In short: “It takes you there, wherever there is.” At concerts, that means communal Raise Your Hand moments—the Boss and E-Street Band barreling into “Badlands” while you and 20,000 other fans jump to your feet, pump your fists in the air and shout the lyrics with him – and private entries to Heaven, such as the Little Diva (Maria McKee) levitating the soul with a mesmerizing “Breathe.” Recorded music, though, is a slightly different beast. Shorn of the physical presence of the artist, the music takes flight (or not) on its own accord. It’s an ethereal, magical experience, listening. You fall not for the singer, though you may be a fan, but for the songs themselves.

A case in point: my first runner-up, Duffy’s Rockferry. Its retro pop-soul sound initially caught my ear, but it stuck around due to the strength of the music. The title cut –

– has an utterly timeless feel, conjuring the likes of Procol Harum, Lulu and Petula Clark, and she sings from the heart throughout, most notably on the weepy “Warwick Avenue” and yearning “Distant Dreamer.”

Another artist whose music earns an honorable mention: jazz vocalist Melody Gardot, who slips her chanteuse soul into syllables, words and phrases with hypnotic precision on the sparse and stark Worrisome Heart. The songs are a mix of downbeat, bittersweet and romantic, and linger in the subconscious once the music’s stopped. Highlights include the ruminative title track, the sultry “Quiet Fire” and “Sweet Memory.” I hasten to add, however, that – as with each of my picks – it’s an album that should be heard in full.

On my Amazon “40 Albums That Demand Repeated Listens” list, I call the next runner-up, Rattlin’ Bones by Aussie twang queen Kasey Chambers and her husband Shane Nicholson, “the best album that Gram and Emmy never made.” It recalls the Original Carter Family in spirit if not practice, and possesses a contagious hillbilly charm that’s feverish in its ferocity. (Or something like that.)

Tift Merritt’s Another Country, the final runner-up, is extraordinary. 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.”

As with “I Know What I’m Looking for Now,” about achieving clarity of purpose, it’s one of those songs that finds you (or, at least, me) hitting repeat ad infinitum.

Juliana Hatfield’s wondrous How to Walk Away is my Album of the Year – the fourth time she’s topped my year-end charts (2005’s Made in China, 2004’s in exile deo and 2000’s Beautiful Creature being the other three). It’s a lush, hook-laden song cycle filled with melodies guaranteed to sweep away all but the hard-hearted and lyrics imbued with honesty, humor and pathos galore.

“This Lonely Love,” my Song of the Year, captures the very essence of loving an intangible – that is to say, music. That it borrows the guitar and piano riffs from in exile deo’s “It Should Have Been You” makes it all the more sweet: “I am only the song you sing,” indeed. The wistful yet poppy “Shining On,” “My Baby” (“where does love go when it goes?”) and “Now I’m Gone,” which has to be the peppiest breakup song this side of Greg Kihn’s, are additional delights. “Such a Beautiful Girl,” yet another favorite, articulates the flip side to “This Lonely Love,” honing in on a girl who “writes and dreams” in order to escape an ugly world. It’s masterful—as is the album as a whole.