Tift Merritt will play at Three Links on Saturday, Feb. 25.
Coming hard and fast on the heels of a divorce, Tift Merritt’s sixth album Stitch of the World could almost be considered a breakup album. Almost, except that seems a little too simple for the poetry Merritt spins, and with the same soul-searching honesty that has endeared the international singer-songwriter to her fans for nearly a decade.
It’s about heartbreak, sure. Anyone who has ever been in love (and fallen out of love and fallen back in love again) can relate to the image Merritt paints of love as a broken and battered soldier, showing up “in its bandages at your door” no matter how many times you “swear you’ve run it off.”
But the real lifeblood of the album is Merritt’s deeply personal reflections on life, loss and perseverance. It’s the line “you must empty your pockets of stones” from the title song, “Stitch of the World,” that seems to truly capture the essence of the album. Merritt turned 40 during the making of the album, and she spent several months traveling between a friend’s ranch in Marfa, Texas, her cabin in California and her home in New York City, writing music and learning how to let go and move forward. Then she found out she was pregnant and decided to move back to her home state of North Carolina to raise her daughter.
“I was writing about a lot of emotional stuff when I was writing this record, and I didn’t have perspective on it,” she explains. “I remember thinking, ‘I usually know what I’m doing and what is good,’ and I didn’t really know and that was a really scary place.”
Perhaps it’s that perspective, or lack thereof, that made this Merritt’s most honest album yet.
“Things are not sewn up so neatly in this world,” she muses. “You can have perspective, and then your perspective can change in a second. I was writing about things that I might never get perspective on in my whole life. I just had to keep going.”
And that’s basically how the album goes. It’s a lyrical tapestry of one woman’s journey to figure out where her stitch ends and everyone else’s begin. She was still knee-deep into figuring that out when she ran into her longtime friend Sam Beam of Iron and Wine at the airport. They started talking about her recent work, and despite some hesitation she sent him what she had, trusting that he would be able to help her narrow her focus.
“I learned a lot from him,” she says. “To have someone say, ‘You’re doing the right thing and I get what you’re talking about, it’s good and it’s important.’ That meant the world to me. Sam is an extremely warm and generous human being and musician.”
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Beam was more than just a confidence boost and editor; he also sang on the album. “He has an ear for counter-melodies,” Merritt points out, “which was a door that opened up for me to get to watch him hear these counter-melodies that would never have crossed my mind. It was a whole new way of looking at the songs.”
With his help, Stitch of the World was released on Jan. 27 on Spotify and iTunes. Merritt is touring nationally and internationally while raising her 10-month-old daughter. She still feels as though she doesn’t have a lot of perspective, but for now that’s OK.
“I wish that I could make the threads of my life into a really neat braid of how it all makes sense, but I think that’s actually the point,” she says. “At some point life doesn’t fit neatly into your plans. Being honest about that can be really hard. I find that I’m really proud that I had the courage to jump, even when I wasn’t really, totally ready.”
Tift Merritt will perform 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 25, at Three Links, 2704 Elm St. Tickets are $17 to $20 at threelinksdeepellum.com.