See You On the Moon

The last time we heard from Tift Merritt, the Houston native had become fully introspective, on songs written while in self-exile in Paris. That album, Another Country (2008), was emotionally open, sprinkled with self-doubt resulting from a fairly traumatic year professionally and personally. It was grounded in folk and pop, unlike the often brazen soul of its predecessor, Tambourine, or the more traditional alt-country stylings of Merritt’s superb debut, Bramble Rose. Now she’s back, with a new batch of songs and, apparently, a pretty good P.R. unit behind her, having already received plaudits from Spin, the Washington Post — even the New Yorker. And while See You On the Moon may not represent the artistic breakthrough some suggest, it’s another worthy release in the Merritt canon, one that borrows musically from all her previous works while scaling back production, courtesy of Tucker Martin (Decemberists), to allow Merritt’s best instrument, her transcendent voice, to shine. The album opens with the groove-enhanced “Mixtape,” a paean to cassette tape compilations, followed by the richly contoured country of “Engine to Turn.” The intimate “The Things that Everybody Does,” on which Merritt’s voice is expertly mixed with clarinet and cello, precedes the jangling guitar lines and Lucinda Williams-like sensibility of “Six More Days of Rain.” Later, there’s the slow falling apart of “Never Talk About It” and the churchified “After Today” (which owes a debt to both Patty Griffin and Randy Newman), alongside the smolder of “Papercut.” By then, you feel like you’ve been treated to … well, a pretty good mix tape, and while the styles may be superficially different, they retain a common spirit. Sure, Merritt’s voice may not raise the roof like Griffin’s, but she never fails to quietly win you over. — TOM BUCKLEY