Stitch Of The World (YepRoc)
The opposite of survivor’s guilt is not survivor’s celebration; there is no celebrating emerging from tumult or knowing the truth that those bruises didn’t do fatal damage to you, your psyche or your soul.
The opposite of survivor’s guilt is survival. It’s coming out the other end able to talk about it, move from it, even – pardon the pop psych book title aspect of this – learn from it, and not be thinking about winners or losers or why you are one and not the other.
Stitch Of The World is a survivor’s story, but neither a vainglorious one (look at me, I know so much now and can help you) nor one wracked by “wrong” choices and recriminations. It even offers room for passengers on a similar wobbly path in My Boat: “stories, room on board for stories, my own and everybody’s, going on and on”.
Stitch Of The World isn’t short of metaphors of memories of wounds (“love me until the scars are gone”) and of the resilience of those repercussions for even the most dogged optimist (“throw it in the river, lose it in the storm/it will show up in its bandages tomorrow at your door”). Knives don’t cut as deep as some of the things which have been done.
In other words, there’s nothing glib or easily manoeuvred around in this: we’re talking, for her, a relationship which ended as the birth of a child neared. That doesn’t flip over with a strong wrist.
Nor does Stitch Of The World shy away from what you do the day after the day after the night before (“you must empty your pockets of stones/that light-hearted you may go, for you must go”) and the promise that something new could yet help mend (“every road gonna disappear, the fate of my heart is unclear/so why don’t you come meet me here, tonight, tonight, tonight”).
That last line in fact comes from a song, Proclamation Bones, which is about not just surviving but reviving: the energy renewed enough to ponder that what the body wants may be just what the mind needs. “Move and dishevel me/wet field, muddy stream/raise my glass like an insect wing/come on, night spell pass through me.”
This busy, driving-on-the-curve song that leans on the physical paves the way for the slower, quieter, more intangible song which follows, Something Came Over Me, where Merritt reconnects with the spirit of trust and response to emotion. “I forgot my heart had room like that/open spaces behind the cracks,” she sings. “Something came over me.”
Don’t let that fool you though, Merritt hasn’t moved from pain to resolution to solution. That’s not how this works: apparently, life isn’t quite like a Dr Phil lecture series.
Breathing down the next of Something Came Over Me is the dusty sparseness of Eastern Light, where she still questions “how do we lose each other like something you’d see?” and asks the unanswerable – and never should be asked - “Was I so hard to love and so love let go of me?”
In addressing these issues, Merritt takes a line between country, blues and folk pop that will knock on the door of fans who fell for her early, country soul shapes as much as those who came along when Americana and old school songwriting defined her more.
There are some very pretty tunes here that wear sadness like a light covering instead of a cowl, such as Eastern Light and Wait For Me. There are some such as Icarus touched by a Ladies Of The Canyon fragile strength, and both Love Soldiers On and the title track step further into the light without ever pretending that light is any more comfortingly warm than a crying pedal steel.
On the other side, Dusty Old Man thumps its boot heels on the floor and Proclamation Bones adds a spur to those boots, while My Boat tugs at you like you’re tethered to an unseen anchor.
And the superb Heartache Is An Uphill Climb starts from a southern church and reinforces the fact that Merritt’s voice which has never sounded so at ease and simultaneously heart-holdingly compelling is a superb instrument.
Survival can be enough, for now, when it’s done as well as this.