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Tift Merritt

Traveling Alone – 2012 (Yep Roc)

Reviewed by Brian Baker

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CDs by Tift Merritt

On her first five studio albums, Tift Merritt has explored a wide stylistic range under the umbrella of folk rock. Out of the gate, "Bramble Rose" established Merritt as an artist of the first order, cracking the Top 50 on Billboard's Country chart and hitting a lot of critics' best-of-year lists. "Tambourine" found her working in a more soulful vein with a rockier beat, while its follow-up, "Another Country," was intimate, contemplative and powerful, and earned her comparisons to Emmylou Harris and Judy Collins. 2010's "See You on the Moon" was perhaps Merritt's most visceral and wonderfully expansive album to date.

Merritt's manifesto on her latest, "Traveling Alone," seems to be encapsulated in the melancholy twang of Sweet Spot, where she croons in the chorus, "I'm just looking for that sweet spot/Where I can live the way that I want." This time out, Merritt assembled a phenomenal band - including Calexico's John Convertino and revered session guitarist Marc Ribot - as well as producer Tucker Martine to create a work grounded in an earthy Americana vibe while layering it with atmospheric textures and ambient moods. Drifted Apart could be a country classic with a slightly more traditional arrangement, but Merritt has never bowed to tradition in the pursuit of her singular sound she could and crafts a classic all her own. Still Not Home shivers and shakes with the brilliance of Harris' work with Buddy Miller in Spyboy, while Too Soon to Go shimmers like the '60s folk pop that Judy Collins perfected.

Sonics and her crystalline voice aside, Merritt is quite simply one of the best songwriters currently working in any genre and the success of "Traveling Alone," like all the albums that have preceded it, is obviously a result of Merritt's gift for melody, ear for lyrical beauty and gravity and courage for blazing her own unique trail.