Tift Merritt

Stitch of the World

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Given the consistent strength of her recorded work, one of the great mysteries of the 21st century remains: why isn't Tift Merritt a star? Since she made her solo debut in 2002 with Bramble Rose, Merritt has yet to release an album that wasn't great, and she hasn't broken her streak with 2017's Stitch of the World. If there's any explanation for her low commercial profile, it's a matter of her strengths, not her weaknesses -- Merritt stubbornly refuses to dumb herself or her music down, and she has no problem changing up her sound and style within an album, which makes her work a bit more challenging than that of the average chart-topping country or Americana act these days. But there are abundant pleasures to be found in Merritt's lyrical storytelling and splendid voice (which suggests some fortunate blend of Dolly Parton and Emmylou Harris), and Stitch of the World once again shows them off to her advantage. These sessions were produced by Sam Beam of Iron and Wine, who also contributes acoustic guitar and backing vocals, and the studio band brings together some stellar musicians, including guitarist Marc Ribot, pedal steel man Eric Heywood, and drummer Jay Bellarose. But while Merritt has surrounded herself with some exceptional helpers, she carries Stitch of the World on her own shoulders, and does so with ease and aplomb. From the simple purity of numbers like "My Boat," "Eastern Light," and "Icarus" to the rowdy attack of "Proclamation Bones" and "Dusty Old Man," Merritt sounds confident and in control at every moment, and her graceful passion is a wonder to behold. It's anyone's guess if Stitch of the World will make the world more aware of Tift Merritt, but for those who know, this is another splendid work from an unsung heroine of American roots music.

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