After two records and a Grammy nomination, Tift Merritt took hiatus with a piano in Paris and came home with her best and most personal songs to date. Merritt describes the writing as a plainspoken look at the distance we... more » all attempt to cross: between two people, between one heart and the rest of the world. Another Country Features special guests CHARLIE SEXTON and DOUG PETTIBONE« less
After two records and a Grammy nomination, Tift Merritt took hiatus with a piano in Paris and came home with her best and most personal songs to date. Merritt describes the writing as a plainspoken look at the distance we all attempt to cross: between two people, between one heart and the rest of the world. Another Country Features special guests CHARLIE SEXTON and DOUG PETTIBONE
She says, 'The songs took care of me.' Well, now they take c
Jesse Kornbluth | New York | 02/26/2008
(5 out of 5 stars)
""Another Country" sounded familiar, but I just couldn't place where I'd heard it before. A clear-voiced singer, sensitive lyrics, music that alternately chugged and soared. Joni Mitchell? Emmylou Harris? Damned if I could place her.
A few listenings in, Tift Merritt's lineage no longer mattered. Only the music did. I didn't immediately get the words --- they're about love and loss and distance, and because they're charming and poetic, they go down easy --- but the tunes were fatally catchy. I found myself humming along and calling out the refrains. Not like me.
My reaction to Tift Merritt was also unsettling. She's got a Grammy nomination and praise from the likes of Emmylou Harris on her bio, but she seems more like a kid just starting out than a seasoned artist. In her 30s? With her own show on NPR? For that matter, a year in Paris? No way.
I had a bunch of questions. Ms. Merritt had the answers. And then some.
JK: What were you doing five minutes before you decided to go to Paris and write the songs that became this CD?
TM: I'd been on tour for a year, traveling in a van --- five guys and me --- and sometimes playing empty clubs, where you have to pretend everything's okay and cry in private. And you get ready in a rock `n roll dressing room, with graffiti on the walls and scary corners you can't look in. And you see the irony. How could you not, when you put your makeup on looking into a mirror that says MILLER LITE.
JK: Who do you blame?
TM: It always ends with me.
JK: And the moment of decision?
TM: I was going to England to tour. I thought, `I'm a grown woman. I can go to Paris and get an apartment and a piano.'
JK: Parlez-vous français?
TM: I studied French in school. And I'd always had a connection to France; my first crush was on my third grade French teacher. I'd say I understood French as I understand music --- instinctively.
JK: No sane person could like French rock. What did you listen to in Paris?
TM: I was cut off from most music. I had some music on my computer, but no iPod.
JK: Did you have any connections to French musicians and writers?
TM: No. And that didn't change much --- I was mostly anonymous. I didn't dress up and go out. I just wrote what I experienced day-to-day, which was the first time in a long time that I'd done that. And to do that in the most beautiful city in the world! In Paris, they spend four hours on a dress the way I spend four hours on a line. The windows are open, people live in the street, you get little glimpses of their lives. And it's very comfortable to be a woman alone there --- you feel safe.
JK: What was your day like?
TM: I didn't think what I was doing. I took pictures, wrote, sang. It was all a nice surprise.
JK: You've written about a day when you filled page after page. Should I be jealous?
TM: I was tired. I'd finished a lot of writing, and I felt like I'd overshot it --- you come back to real life and find yourself crossing against the lights and staring blankly at vegetables in the market because all your perspective is used up.
JK: I'd start feeling paranoid about what's on my computer: What if...
TM: I saved everything to disks --- even though my writing was a mess --- and mailed them home.
JK: Ah, yes: home. What was it like to return to America?
TM: In Paris, I'd been happy just doing my job. I was nervous I'd lose that feeling.
TM: It's hard. I came home and the record company dropped me. It was really lucky that I had these songs to take care of. But the way it happened, the songs took care of me.
TM: I believed in them, and it's sometimes easier to believe in your work than to believe in yourself. I'd started to think: This is stupid. I don't need an audience to be happy. I'm traipsing around the country. Not doing much to save the world. Maybe I should do something else. But I kept coming back to the songs. I needed to follow through --- and I knew I wouldn't get off so easily. And then I teamed up with Fantasy, and here we are.
JK: "Another Country" is hard to categorize.
TM: Thank you.
JK: Yes, but you make it hard for yourself.
TM: I don't sit around and choose to make this music. I do this because it's real. Do critics do this to filmmakers --- put the funny ones in the comedy box? I think it's crazy for me to edit myself so I can make it easy for others.
JK: What are you like on stage?
TM: Performing is a safe place for me to throw my intensity, as hard as I want.
JK: I'm having trouble imagining that. You seem like such a...oh...little sister...a nice kid. Can you rip it up?
TM: Hey, I don't do this job because I'm bad at it.
JK: Noted. What will this tour be like?
TM: The guys. And budget motels.
JK: But not the same as before?
TM: This feels like a plan. I know: The beginning of any record is sunny. But I feel... smarter.
JK: What's this new-fangled NPR podcast about?
TM: It's a great way to keep reading and learning and seeing how others struggle with the issues I do. I record it on my laptop, edit it on ProTools. And you can find it on Marfa Public Radio.
JK: I hate to ask, but in an election year, people really seem to care about belief. Do you have a religious practice?
TM: I'm a musician. Of course I have an inner life. "
COMFORTING, GRACIOUS AND BEAUTIFUL
Thomas D. Ryan | New York | 03/25/2008
(4 out of 5 stars)
"If ever there were a convention of performing artists, Tift Merritt would probably spend the evening helping to serve the food, then staying afterward to help with the clean-up. There is something unfailingly polite about her style, so much so that she is an anomaly in an industry full of misogynists, hedonists, crybabies and creeps. "Another Country" captures that niceness with a series of songs that are unfailingly gracious in their gentle use of melodicism. It is extraordinarily comforting to hear an album as well-adjusted as "Another Country," but that can also be part of the problem. In real life, it is the troublemakers who attract all of the attention, and it is no different in the music industry. Disaffected misfits with bad attitudes and re-hab issues get the press and top the charts, and it is difficult to hear Tift Merritt above the din of whining screamers in need of medication, therapy, or both. "Another Country" is the result of an artist burned out from too much touring. In the liner notes, Tift (I think she would find it distasteful if I used her formal name) writes that she "had lost track of the miles (she) had traveled." To break her stride, she spent some time in Paris, familiarizing herself with a new culture and a new group of friends. The experience liberated her, and inspired her to new heights of creativity. This is an album full of personal observations from lessons learned, with intimate arrangements that focus on the strengths of her touring band, augmented by guitarists Doug Pettibone and Charlie Sexton. As a collection, the songs fit like a well-worn sweater. It is the aural equivalent of a woman finding a sense of comfort in the life she has chosen for herself. Most parents know that necessity dictates them to spend most of their time and effort working with the `problem' child, while the well-adjusted sibling gets overlooked. It may take some time for you to come around to listening to Tift Merritt's new album, but when you do, it will wrap you with a sense of comfort and relief, and it will probably make you smile. B+ Tom Ryan"
Another Country is Another Exqusite Album
C. Batty | Austin | 03/01/2008
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Apparently, I am a rareity here having loved Tift since her 1999 duets album with The Two Dollar Pistols. For those of you new to her, a (very) brief and mostly musical history. That album is a very classic country cover album with Tift's sweet soprano soaring gracefully next to John Howie's rough barritone. In 2002 she released her solo debut Bramble Rose, which went to a very 70's Gram Parson's and Emmylou Harris side of country and was produced by Ethan Johns (Ryan Adams). Two years later she teamed with George Drakoulias to record Tambourine which went off in a much more bluesy/R&B direction. In 2005 she released the live cd Home Is Loud and 2007 saw the issuing of her Austin City Limits appearence on DVD. She was dropped by her label Lost Highway and moved to Paris, not sure if she was going to stay in the business. Then she wrote all the songs for this album, came home and released them on Fantasy. With all that out of the way, how does this album stack up? Sonically speaking, she returns to the same overall sound as Bramble Rose, but pushes past what she did on that album. The lyrics are much more personal than they have been on her earlier albums, but she retains her sense of incident based storytelling. In a way she is almost the anthesis of Neko Case. Where the red headed torch singer wraps her life in dark images that pull the everyday into the realm of fantasy, Tift grounds her images in incidents so everyday that often the lyric passes before you realize the full weaight of truth behind it. Her voice here is sweeter than it has been on previous albums, fuller and more mature, with a control of her higher registers that sometimes came off as a bit squeaky before. While Tift does play both the piano and guitar, her voice is a true instrument of rare value, as fine, delicate and strong as a well cut diamond, as as capable of refracting a multiplicity of colors. Oh, and for those who were wonder, she is an absolute must see live. Her voice soars to the rafters and fills the room in a show that is half glorious music and half a brilliant revivial show for the human spirit. And that is the element that she brings to each of her songs, both vocally and lyrically, a simple and elegant knowledge of the messy beauty of her own very human spirit, and by extention, each of ours."
Just discovered Tift
Knopfler720 | Quincy, MA United States | 02/27/2008
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Listening to Boston's folk radio station (WUMB) is the place where I can hear the gamut of new and old musicians. I must say I was pleasantly surprised after hearing 'Something to Me.' So surprised that I bought this new cd yesterday, the day of it's release. I definitely recommend this cd/artist to anyone who enjoys Emmylou Harris, Nanci Griffith or Patty Griffin. The melodies are great and the lyrics are poetic and accessible. I'm very happy to have found a new artist to follow. Now all I need to do is listen to her whole catalog.
Thanks Tift! Hope to see you live when you come to the Northeast."
Awesome voice and great songs
Sabina Boston | Paw Paw, Michigan | 06/19/2008
(5 out of 5 stars)
"I loved Bramble Rose so I was glad to get this new CD and I am not disappointed at all. In fact, I love this CD. Her voice shines on certain tracks, like Another Country and Broken, and delivers solid performances on I Know What I'm Looking for Now and Keep You Happy. Her lyrics have matured with her and are quite often moving and thought provoking. It's a great listen and I play it in the car each day. I don't care much for the french language song, but I'm sure it pays homage to her year in Paris and has a personal meaning for her. The rest of the songs are wonderful."