Tift Merritt’s transition to Yep Roc is off to a solid start with Traveling Alone, a record about solitude and independence that allows Merritt to shine.
On the opening title track, Merritt sings over sparse guitar in a tone that’s weary from hard lessons learned. She cuts to the chase. “I would teach him something. Say, ‘Son, you gotta hold your own and it’s good to have a taste for traveling alone,’” she sings.
Traveling Alone feels like the result of a southern woman hardened by the world — “Sweetness ain’t gonna get you home,” Merritt sings — but the record never feels overly cynical. Merritt’s not blaming, just explaining how things are.
Merritt’s multitude of experience is reflected beyond the lyrics. Traveling Alone is a country record, but Merritt adds subtle touches of blues and jazz (“Small Talk Relations”), rock and roll (“Spring”), and pop (“In The Way”) making categorizing her more difficult.
Her backing band — with Marc Ribot (guitar, Tom Waits), Eric Heywood (pedal steel, Pretenders, Son Volt), John Convertino (drums, Calexico) and longtime bassist Jay Brown — sounds excellent and precise. The band was recorded all at once making the record sound organic and alive.
Andrew Bird also makes an appearance on the duet “Drifting Away” and it’s surprisingly the low point of the album. His voice is too cloying and the song would be better served with deeper voice.
Between the her honest lyrics and dynamite band, Traveling Alone is one of the most compelling entries in Merritt’s discography to date.
Traveling Alone is out now on Yep Roc Records.
Tift Merritt will play with Justin Townes Earle at the Cat's Cradle on November 15. Tickets are $20.