“Love me until the scars are gone,” implores Tift Merritt, less than a minute into Stitch of the World. And it’s not the only such reference on the album. “How does the scar forgive the knife?” she wonders on the very next song; on another, she’s “bruised up” and “been around the block.” These are songs about being caught in love’s rough and tumble, about getting beat up and batted around but living to tell about it. They’re war stories and survivor’s tales, and they sound both weary and glad. Even the titles are revealing: “Love Soldiers On” isn’t exactly a victory march, as Leonard Cohen might say, but it moves forward just the same. Another is called “Heartache Is an Uphill Climb”—rigorous but at least pointed in the right direction.
Songs like these wouldn’t land unless they sounded lived in. Merritt’s albums have covered many shades and emotional hues—from the brawny R&B of Tambourine to the hushed reverie of Night, her collaboration with Simone Dinnerstein—and this one likewise carves out its own character. The album is probably most similar to the scruffy, country-influenced Traveling Alone, but it feels deeper and dustier, its upbeat numbers more ragged and howling, its slower ones tipping into a well of soulful melancholy that’s worthy of prime Rolling Stones (who are, incidentally, namechecked here).
Stitch of the World starts with a bang, on “Dusty Old Man,” as scrappy as anything Merritt has ever recorded; she counts it off at the beginning, her voice bleeds in with the howl of guitars, and drummer Jay Bellerose kicks up a maelstrom of maracas and bass drum thumps. “Proclamation Blues” is nearly as tempestuous, riding slashing electric guitar riffs and another avalanche of percussion. At the other end of the spectrum are three songs with Iron & Wine’s Sam Beam providing harmonies; being sequenced back-to-back-to-back at the album’s end makes the tracks feel just a bit too wispy and featherweight, but any one on its own is lovely.
Merritt’s chemistry with her band makes everything here feel lively, but don’t let that obscure her ease of craft; when she shifts focus to the piano for “Heartache Is an Uphill Climb,” a hymn to holding on even in brokenness, she displays her casual mastery of the skyscraping ballad, building each chorus just a little bigger and a little weepier. (She also shows off that voice of hers, which has never sounded more like Dolly Parton’s than it does on this song.) “My Boat” is a song of kinship and inclusion; everyone’s welcome on Merritt’s vessel, and every story will find an audience and a sympathetic ear. It’s offered in a time of division in our country, and it makes it just a little bit easier to believe that scars do heal, that love soldiers on somehow.