By Mike Joyce
Friday, October 5, 2012
“Traveling Alone” is an apt title for Tift Merritt’s new album -- up to a point.
The North Carolina-bred singer-songwriter didn’t have a label or a manager prior to recording the collection of songs, but several stellar musicians lent their support in the studio, including guitarist (and Tom Waits collaborator) Marc Ribot. Merritt’s contributors complement her exceptional songcraft and haunting voice, making the album all the more rewarding.
Merritt’s aim was to record something “real and raw,” but “Traveling Alone” is far more than that. If she hasn’t achieved the commercial success she deserves, perhaps it’s because she seems incapable of writing a formulaic or unfelt song.
She has more in common with an artist such as Joni Mitchell than most of the Nashville crowd, and her latest lyrics underscore that fact with grace and economy. That’s true whether she’s invoking Robert Johnson on “Still Not Home,” a typically restless ballad, or vividly capturing a moment in time on “Small Talk Relations.” On the latter, her spiritual connection with Mitchell and her ’60s peers could not be more obvious: “Workmen in the street below/ Softly play a radio/ A hymn of static through the traffic.”
Some of Merritt’s famous admirers could be tempted to record songs from “Traveling Alone” -- Emmylou Harris, for one. But creating a deeper, more heartfelt impression than Merritt’s won’t be easy.