Tift Merritt takes Jazz Aspen stage | AspenTimes.com

Tift Merritt takes Jazz Aspen stage

Stewart Oksenhorn
The Aspen Times
Aspen CO, Colorado

Courtesy Mark BrothwickSinger-songwriter Tift Merritt performs Sunday at the Jazz Aspen Snowmass Labor Day Festival.

SNOWMASS VILLAGE ” After nine solid months of touring following the release of her 2004 CD “Tambourine,” Tift Merritt’s needle was pinned to empty. She had been away from home so long, she didn’t even know exactly where it was she was supposed to go back to. She wasn’t sure what she needed, though she knew there was something she required.

“It’s amazing what kind of chaos that can create in your life and your heart and your mind,” Merritt said by phone from Raleigh, N.C., not far from where she was raised. “If I had known what I was looking for, I wouldn’t have felt lost.”

Merritt took a course that was likely to be a cure, no matter what the problem ” a two-week vacation in Paris. During that respite, she realized what she needed was more of Paris. The two weeks became a solid four months, plus two more years with repeated visits back to the city.

A big part of her routine in Paris involved the piano in the apartment she rented.

Merritt was shaken at first by the thought that her nine months on the road had left her empty of music: “I went to the piano, and there was this moment where I thought I had nothing to say,” she said. Eventually, though, that fear was replaced by inspiration, as ideas about displacement, searching and rediscovery began to flow through her.

“And I started writing like crazy,” said the 33-year-old, who makes her Aspen debut Sunday with a 3 p.m. set at the Jazz Aspen Snowmass Labor Day Festival in Snowmass Village, on a bill with Dwight Yoakam and John Fogerty. “It was a really nice mystery. I felt lost, and what came out was a happy surprise, putting the pieces back together. I went for two weeks and realized what was going on, so I had to stay there. I knew this was the antidote.”

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The product of this course of treatment was the CD, released in February, “Another Country.” The notion of finding a place, both physical and spiritual, in the world, runs throughout the album, whose musical language veers between soul, folk and country. The title track speaks of “Places I have never been,” as the singer reveals “I am broke down right here.” The splendid soul-folk tune “Morning Is My Destination,” which recalls Laura Nyro, rings like an emotional breakthrough, as the singer realizes that all she needs to do is make it through till daylight. The album details Merritt’s recovery more than the turmoil; she calls it the most personal record she’s done.

Merritt calls the time she spent in Paris “a pure period of that romantic ideal of writing for writing’s sake, for yourself.” The question of how she returns to that place is one she hasn’t really got to yet; touring behind “Another Country” has meant she’s only done a bit of songwriting over the last months.

“I will do everything I can to open myself up to that experience,” she said. “But you can’t predict it. You just hold on.”

She has had time to wonder if finding another geographical location will be the key to unlocking her creativity again. Last fall, she moved to New York City’s West Village, an artsy neighborhood that nourished Bob Dylan more than four decades ago, and which fellow singer-songwriter Steve Earle praised to the skies on last year’s “Washington Square Serenade.” But Merritt has her doubts; New York, to her, always has been a place to do business, not her art.

So she casts her mind toward other spots on the globe to which she might retreat the next time she needs a rebirthing experience.

“I think Greece would be pretty amazing,” she said. “And I have friends in Marfa, Texas, this crazy little arts town. I may go to visit their piano sometime.

“If only there were moments in your life when you knew what the antidote was.”

stewart@aspentimes.com

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