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Folksy Warmth

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Tift Merritt
Sat., Sept. 22nd
Greenfield Lake Amphitheater
1941 Amphitheater Dr.
Doors: 6 p.m. • Show: 7 p.m.
$20/advance • $25/day of
www.greenfieldlakeamphitheater.com

NO FAKING: Tift Merritt will bring her honest and pure vocals to Greenfield Lake Amphitheater this weekend. Photo: Jason Frank Rothenberg

During an age when synthesized and autotuned fakes are considered great music, North-Carolina native Tift Merritt’s honest voice is a refreshing demonstration of what music should really be. Her newest album “Traveling Alone,” which will debut October 2nd, tells heartfelt stories with folksy warmth. Placing importance on a performance that speaks for itself rather than a perfectly polished final product, her new record has a beautifully organic sound that speaks volumes of her ability.

“We did this record in eight days live off the floor,” she shares. “We have always started records like that, but I really wanted it to be the beginning and end of the process—which meant that the songs and the performances truly had to stand up without any after-icing. I like that idea—that a record is self-possessed and comfortable in its own skin, not trying to please everyone and not meant to be consumed quickly and thrown away. Something like good leather that has nuance and gets better with use.”

On “Traveling Alone” Merritt’s powerful, flowing voice is accompanied by more instruments than one would think, given its light, bare sound. Merritt hand-picked old friends and noted musicians to help her achieve just the right feeling on the record. Guitarist Marc Ribot, Calexico drummer John Convertino, steel player Eric Heywood, jazz and rock multi-instrumentalist Rob Burger, and Jay Brown on bass all collaborated to create “Traveling Alone.” With so many involved, it’s surprising how quickly the record was pulled together.

Every bit of “Traveling Alone” mirrors something close to Merritt’s heart, reflective of her experiences. For her it is important to delve into issues that may not be comfortable to address but ought to be examined nonetheless.

“In my work, I do gravitate to the heart of things,” she says. “The conflict, the mystery, the meat and potatoes. Pop music doesn’t always need to be about that, but that is where my work lives. I want to know what the meaning is for myself. I think you can’t pretty things up and dance around it to do that. My mentor, Doris Betts, always agreed that it was an artist’s job to ask the hard questions, even if that wasn’t what your Southern manners had in mind for you.”

In that same vein, the album is in many ways a soul-searching exploit for both Merritt and the listener. In a video on her YouTube channel, she explains how her song “Marks” raises questions about morality.

“‘Traveling Alone’ is in some ways an outsider’s search for a meaning,” Merritt tells. “Morality is a big, heavy word. But it is important to know what is important to you and to be vigilant about that. The struggle of being an individual and being true to yourself means that you reject some things and keep others from society or the givens in how things are done. I think it is a very interesting moment, how and when people make their own way.”

During her fall tour, Merritt will eagerly return to her home state of North Carolina. She will play several shows which inclue a stop here in Wilmington at the Greenfield Lake Amphitheater on September 22nd.

“I love, love, love being in NC,” she muses. “My best friends are here; my family is here; my music is from here. There is never a question in my mind where I am from. I know what it sounds like, looks like, tastes like, feels like. I know it on a summer night as well as on a winter morning. North Carolina—especially when I was growing up—was such a specific place of its own. [There’s] nowhere else like it. That sense of place, that specificity in feel, that is something I always strive for in my work.”

Joining her in Wilmington will be the Raleigh duo Small Ponds, composed of Caitlin Cary and Matt Douglas. “They are old friends and wonderful people and musicians,” Merritt notes. “That is most certainly the name of the game: playing music with people who are dear to you.”

In addition to the release of “Traveling Alone,” fans of Merritt can look forward to another release next spring. “I just recorded a record called ‘Night’ with Simone Dinnerstein, a truly amazing classical pianist,” she confirms. “I am really excited about playing with her and have learned a lot from her.”

Merritt’s tour continues through mid-November, where she will play venues across the country. Her goal for the rest of the year: enjoy herself. “I hope I play some great concerts and have a really good time with my band,” she says. “I hope I laugh a lot and have a couple new songs in mind.”

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