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Saturday, January 30, 2010


320 KBPS

It took Tift Merritt four years, a label change, and a sojourn to Paris, where she knew virtually no one and didn't speak the language, to craft her third release. She recounts the Paris part of the story in the liner notes and the explanation clarifies both the disc's title and reflective, personal songs such as "I Know What I'm Looking for Now" ("this world will mix you up and bring you down, but I know what I'm looking for now"). Producer George Drakoulias returns from her last album, as does most of her touring band, but the sound is more muted and less insistent than on the Dusty in Memphis styled Tambourine. When horns do finally enter the picture on track eight, it seems like the Stax styled "Tell Me Something True" is a Tambourine leftover. Electric guitars are handled by ringers Charlie Sexton and Doug Pettibone but both stay on low boil for the majority of the disc, finally letting loose on "My Heart Is Free" near the end. The stripped down sound, reliance on ballads and mid-tempo strummers such as the opening "Something to Me" gives these songs, and especially Merritt's luxurious vocals, room to breathe. They marinate in their comfy country-folk strum, unconcerned about making a strong first impression, but rather letting their melodic and lyrical charms seep in gradually. The singer's voice seems more fragile and sensitive than in the past but that suits the introspective nature of these 11 originals well. The notes make clear that the material was largely composed on piano, which explains the keyboard oriented sound underpinning the lovely title track and many of the slower tunes that dominate the set. There's a sense of exhaling through the spaces on these songs, as if the sessions were a return to a less stressful approach. That fits the material, and especially Merritt's velvety vocals, perfectly. When all the elements combine, such as on the lilting "Morning Is My Destination" where Merritt's voice connects with the more soulful aspects of the song, punctuated by gospel organ and stinging guitar fills, the effect is stunning. The closing cabaret ballad "Mille Tendresses," sung in French, is a natural coda to an album that is not an obvious progression in Tift Merritt's career, but one that comes from the heart and sounds it. Sometimes you have to look backward to move forward, which makes Another Country ring with a personal touch. It resonates with emotion, tenderness, and a sense that she has found comfort in life and her songwriting that may have been missing before.

1. Something to Me
2. Broken
3. Another Country
4. Hopes Too High
5. Morning Is My Destination
6. Keep You Happy
7. I Know What I'm Looking for Now
8. Tell Me Something True
9. My Heart Is Free
10. Tender Branch
11. Mille Tendresses

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