See You on the Moon
First Appeared in The Music Box, October 2010, Volume 17, #10
Written by John Metzger
Mon October 4, 2010, 06:30 AM CDT
With every day that passes, it becomes a little harder for up-and-coming singers and songwriters to reach enough people to built a sustainable career. The simple truth, of course, is that so many stories, concepts, and ideas have been put into words that it is becoming almost impossible for artists to find perspectives that are as universally appealing as they are unique. Likewise, for all of the stylistic possibilities that music offers, the acceptable combinations available to those wielding nothing more than a guitar and a voice are growing remarkably thin.
Forty years ago, Tift Merritt would have been at the forefront of everyone’s mind. Her songs would have been unavoidable as they played on radio station after radio station from coast to coast across the country. They also would have fit perfectly alongside the rest of the confessional songwriters of the day: Joni Mitchell, Jackson Browne, Carole King, and James Taylor, among them. These days, though, the fractured state of the music business has left artists like Merritt to struggle on their own, causing them, at times, to second-guess themselves as they search for a niche.
For a while, Merritt tried to run away from the notion that she was cut from the same mold as the songwriters of the early 1970s. With her debut Bramble Rose, she dabbled in alt-country; refusing to be pigeonholed, she explored soulful textures on her sophomore set Tambourine. Nevertheless, her 2008 outing Another Country most likely offered the best glimpse into her fragile psyche. Although it contained bits and pieces of her previous endeavors, it rearranged them in ways that flowed so naturally and subtly that many fans and critics missed the maturation of Merritt’s artistic voice.
If there are any remaining doubts that she had finally come into her own, Merritt’s latest set See You on the Moon will erase them. In essence, she continues to tinker with the musical and lyrical ideas that she had threaded through Another Country, an album that traced her personal rejuvenation and subsequent reentry to the world. With See You on the Moon, she further perfects her approach, and ultimately, she brings an enthralling level of emotional intimacy to her work.
See You on the Moon is obsessed with the concepts of communication and disconnection, and throughout the set, Merritt uses them to explore the agony and beauty of relationships. She sends messages across the miles (Mixtape), and with help from My Morning Jacket’s Jim James, she channels words spoken from beyond the grave (Feel of the World). Heavyhearted sorrow exists both in the estrangement of All the Reasons We Don’t Have to Fight as well as in the gentle mourning of the title track. Yet, there also is a sense of optimism that wafts through the affair, liberating the effort from its gloom and keeping it from becoming overly claustrophobic and ashen.
Collaborating with producer Tucker Martine, who is best known for his work with an array of indie-rock outfits, might seem like an odd choice for someone as traditional as Merritt. Yet, this decision proves to have been a wise selection. When necessary, Martine doesn’t shy from applying glossier elements to her output, such as the disco strings and handclap beats that perk up Mixtape. More often than not, though, he toughens up Merritt’s sound just enough to magnify the emotional edginess of her work. Adding a sense of movement to Six More Days of Rain, ambient guitars glide like streams of clouds across its surface; funereal horns and gospel piano chords supplement the darkened tone of After Today; Papercut’s moody arrangement reveals deeper wounds.
Through her songs and the characters that populate them, Merritt probes her own relationships. She is searching for happiness, while trying to avoid the pitfalls and stumbling blocks that obstruct her path. Although she revels in simplicity — analog tapes, typewriters, and records frequent Merritt’s lyrics — the emotional complexities that lurk within See You on the Moon run exceedingly deep.
Of Further Interest...
See You on the Moon is available from
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1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
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