Tift Merritt, See You On the Moon
Tift Merritt burst on the alt-country scene with 2002’s Bramble Rose—thanks to an assist from fellow then-North Carolina resident Ryan Adams—seemingly fully-formed as a songwriter. Her highly literary blend of folk, country and rock landed that debut on a number of critics’ Top 10 lists, and the more expansive 2004 follow-up, Tambourine, revealed her love of STAX-style soul and dreamy ’70s-era Cali-pop.
She’s settled in to a nice groove in the years since, working with the same band, and while her new See You On the Moon doesn’t blaze any new paths, Merritt—playing The State Room Aug. 11—continues to impress as a songwriter. “Engine to Turn” features bombastic pop harmonies ala Fleetwood Mac, while the very next song, “Things That Everybody Does,” is simply Merritt’s beautiful voice and acoustic guitar at first, eventually incorporating some cello and piano. My Morning Jacket’s Jim James harmonizes with Merritt on the delicate ballad “Feel of the World,” and the opener, “Mixtape,” seems destined to be a highlight of her catalog for years to come, with a refrain aimed straight at the romantic music geek inside all of us: “I’m just making you mixtapes with homemade covers/Analog to show we’re lovers/And here under the jacket folds inside/I’ve taped my heart for you to find.” (Fantasy Records)
Various Artists, Twistable Turnable Man:
A Musical Tribute to the Songs of Shel Silverstein
Best known as the twisted poet beloved by kids for collections like Where the Sidewalk Ends, Shel Silverstein has always been a songwriter as well—he penned Johnny Cash’s popular “A Boy Named Sue,” after all.
This collection brings together Silverstein acolytes young and old to pay tribute to his nonsensical-but-always-fun wordplay, and it’s a gas to hear. I fell in love with the album within two songs: the opening, countrified “Lullabys, Legends and Lies” done by My Morning Jacket and “The Twistable, Turnable Man Returns” by Andrew Bird. “This Guitar Is For Sale” could fit right alongside John Prine’s own songs in his catalog, so perfect are the lyrics matched to his well-worn voice. Dr. Dog turns “The Unicorn” into a wondrous homage to The Beach Boys, thanks to some stunning vocal harmonies and intricate production. The Pixies’ Black Francis and Joey Santiago bring some rock edge to “The Cover of the Rolling Stone,” while Lucinda Williams syrupy, slurred vocals slither through “The Ballad of Lucy Jordan” for five-plus minutes of bliss. Other highlights come courtesy of Kris Kristofferson (“The Winner”), Ray Price (“Me and Jimmy Rodgers) and Todd Snider (“A Boy Named Sue”). (Sugarhill Records)