By SCOTT CUNNINGHAM // Appears Saturday May 13th at Mississippi Studios
Clichés are like rusted out, creaky, old gates that make you cringe a bit each time you hear one as the sound shrieks into your consciousness.
Sometimes, however, they fit.
So, with a sense of trepidation, here we go: Tift Merritt is keeping it real. Because she is real.
Most press releases for new albums are chock full of fluffy, word-smithed hyperbole meant to hype the product. In doing so, the deep connection between the work and the artist is often lost.
Not so for Merritt, who appears Saturday night at Mississippi Studios in Portland. She wrote her own press release for her most recent album and in doing so communicated the thoughts and emotions that went into "Stitch of the World" in a way no hired writer could have ever accomplished.
Speaking about writing her own release, she said, "My work is always personal. I don't think life is so mysterious that it is necessary to be foggy about things. I think any chance to communicate is a lucky one."
Such sentiments are rare in life, let alone for a musician doing PR in support of her work. But, that's who Merritt is: A real life, honest-to-goodness woman comfortable with her own sense of vulnerability.
Two years ago she had just turned 40 and was recently divorced, life was coming (and going) fast. She had just come off the road and realized she needed a serious break.
Her first stop was a vacation at a friend's ranch in Texas where she sought solitude and just the essentials she needed to get by.
"That's how I wanted to stop, that's where I started," she explains.
Her next stop was a mountain cabin in California overlooking the Pacific Ocean. "That's what I gave myself for my fortieth birthday, a month of respite and writing. I think those sorts of things, you never know exactly what it is going to be like and it is sort of the best thing you ever did."
Merritt spent her days hiking and writing, gradually finding some sense of perspective. It was here that "Stitch of the World" found its genesis.
"I had a lot to write about, I had a lot to sort through."
And write she did, with lyrics on the album strong enough to stand on their own as prose in and of themselves.
Heartache Is An Uphill Climb begins with:
How does the scar forgive the knife?
How does the pride forget the fight?
The one that laid it down so low,
The one still throwing tall shadows.
The song's beginning is sparse, just vocals and piano, reminiscent of Tori Amos, before launching into more of an upbeat feel as the song's tension starts to release, the narrator becoming stronger as perseverance and time ease heartache.
"I think we all kind of take it for granted that if we were doing life right, it wouldn't be so difficult. I don't think that's the message you should be telling yourself when it is difficult. I think the message is probably 'this is going to take some time and some courage, just keep on step by step.'"
Love, time, and patience are all key themes to the album. Dusty Old Man is a metaphor for the passage of time, gaining wisdom and gradually healing wounds as we age.
Healing is forefront in Icarus, rooted in the Greek myth of Icarus and his father Daedalus, who warned Icarus not to fly too high nor too low. In myth, Icarus ignores the warning and soars too high, crashing into the sea where he drowns.
Merritt's song is a vision of finding the crashed and wounded Icarus, then nursing him back to health.
"I have a real soft spot for Icarus," she explains. "For thousands of years he has been made an example of and he has been the moral of the story when you are cocky or have hubris.
"Honestly, I think he's done his penance. No one else got hurt, maybe he bit off more than he could chew, but in the modern landscape in terms of what we see in terms of hubris, Icarus has done nothing wrong. I cheer for the dreamer."
Merritt could have just as easily been describing herself, for the album and the stories it tells are deeply personal, reflective of her own emotional journey during a difficult time of transition.
She wouldn't be so presumptuous, though, as to suggest she has it all figured out.
"I think the lesson for me in all of this is that perspective on what you are writing is maybe a fallacy. Perspective is such a continuum, you land on focus one minute and then it changes. To tell yourself that you have some perspective on something and you have it all wrapped up is less than real."
Her current lesson on shifting perspectives has been the arrival of her first child, a daughter born last spring.
"I have always been so firmly planted in my idea of myself as a writer and an artist and that was what my life was about. I was really scared to become a mom, wondering what was going to happen to me and to my work and how in the world would I go on the road.
"I still struggle with all of those things, but I'm complete in a really new way because I'm a mother. It just suits me in a way that I had no idea and I did not understand how the experience would resonate inside of me."
Recognizing that perspectives are momentary stitches in time and are bound to change is about as grounded as one can hope to be.
ON TOUR: Tift Merritt appears at Mississippi Studios on Saturday, May 13, 2017. Doors 6:00PM / Show 6:50PM. Tickets are still available as of this writing.