by Whit Hill
The eleven songs on Tift Merritt's brand-new record Another Country were waiting for her in a series of rented flats in Paris. She just had to go there and get them.
The liner notes tell the story: exhausted from relentless touring, the North Carolina-based singer-songwriter with the husky soprano went looking for a place to roost and rest. And how strange and wonderful it is that there, in the City of Light, wandering the twisty streets, sitting in cafes, surrounded by any language but English, Merritt could come up with something so very American.
"I somehow managed to find another apartment with a piano. It was a studio, so the piano was right by the bed. The best sleep I have ever known was sleeping beside that piano. One morning, I woke up with my hands clutching that piano," she writes. And one can sense in these songs a passion for finding home wherever you are, and whoever you're with.
The title cut starts with Merritt's simple, staple chords just as they must have sounded in that tiny, rumpled room and adds in spare instrumentation as she sings about going somewhere, anywhere, to follow love, and how that love itself is "Another Country."
"Broken" is apparently being marketed as the album hit here (Merritt played it on Jay Leno's show at the end of February) and it has a cool, tricky little melody. "Something to Me" is straight-ahead country and a perfect opener for the album. Throughout, Merritt shows her strong writing chops deft turns of phrase, words that just sound good to sing, all served up with plenty of honesty.
I lied about one thing. Another Country is not all American. Merritt wrote the last cut, "Mille Tendresses [1,000 Tendernesses]," in French, with a little help from some Francophile friends. It's sweetly, slightly Piafy, and Merritt falls into the song as if she is finally giving in to where she is.
Tift Merritt makes her local debut at the Ark on Wednesday, April 2.
[Review published April 2008]