Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Tift Merritt Traveling Alone 2013

I mentioned this one back when it came out but it never received an actual review. I remember listening to it the three or four requisite times I give any new record, but it never really connected. So it sat in the stacks for some time before just a few weeks ago, when I went to give it a new listen. And several more since then.

Merritt is a skilled songwriter and a pretty fine singer, too. She plays acoustic guitar like someone that's entertained with just that and her voice, and it's sturdy guitar. The mid-tempo title track kicks things off with a fine lyric and atmospheric guitar. Sweet Spot follows in mid-tempo country rock style, again with guitar and pedal steel highlights. The sad sweet Drifted Apart has a nice duet vocal and violin from Andrew Bird. Still Not Home documents a restless soul in rocking style, with an understated lead guitar. The slow ballad Small Talk Relations builds instrumentally into a strong chorus. Spring is folky introspection, but with a strong vocal and hot guitar to save it. To Myself returns to the too rare rocking mode with solid workmanship. In The Way is an optimistic country-pop with a great hook in the chorus. The record closes with the atmospheric Marks, where a  deep yearning lyric combines with some exceptional guitars.

And those guitars come from none other than the famous Mark Ribot and journeyman guitar and pedal steel player Eric Heywood. The rhythm section is Jay Brown on bass and Calexico's unnaturally talented drummer John Convertino. And all this is produced by the tireless Tucker Martine, who has been at the helm of fine records by everyone from Bill Frisell to The Long Winters.

It is that band that makes this record worth hearing again. Merritt's songs are good, her voice is lovely, her lyrics are compelling, but the record could really use just a few more uptempo songs. So if you're going to do the delicate folk-country-Americana thing, best to have it embellished by an all-star troupe. That's the recipe here, and it comes out quite well.