I’ve written many times about my friend and multi-talented musician Tift Merritt. She is a singer/songwriter, guitarist, pianist, and creative spirit. Her podcast The Spark with Tift Merritt is a conversation about integrity and process, and features some of the most creative minds of our age, including Rosanne Cash, Andrew Bird, and Kiki Smith (among others). In addition to managing her solo career, Tift occasionally plays with Andrew Bird and the Hands Of Glory. Although she spends most of her time on the road touring, I occasionally get the chance to catch up with Tift in New York City (her home-base)—as was the case during our Makeshift events.
Her album, Traveling Alone, is a source of constant creative inspiration to me. When we last spoke, Tift graciously agreed to create our playlist for August. Below, she shares some of her favorite songs.
AC: When did you start playing music?
TM: I started playing music as a little girl with my father. He taught me to play by ear and I loved listening to him, trying to sing with him, and seeing how happy music made him. I wanted to be a writer for as long as I could remember, so writing songs was a very natural way to bring many things I loved together.
AC: What are some of your proudest moments as a musician (or in your life)?
TM: Emmylou Harris introduced me in my hometown once and my mother said, “You just got everything you ever wanted for Christmas.” I took my parents to the Grammy’s when I was nominated, which was a nice thing to give them as repayment for all the times I nearly gave them a heart attack. I’ve been lucky to have some moments like that, but it is usually the plainer moments which are most deeply satisfying – just doing a good job playing music and putting your heart out there as openly as you can, maybe a little more than you thought you could. I’m very proud of the singing I’m doing with Andrew Bird right now, too.
AC: What do you do when you’re not playing music?
TM: I make guitar straps out of vintage ribbon and suede. I cook. I read. I compare notes with other artists about process. I give attention to my friends and family. I catch up on the quotidian home life I love and miss on the road.
AC: What makes your heart sing?
TM: That is a loaded question to ask a singer! I think singing – in making things or in terms of music – is that place where work jumps a little beyond the limitations of its technical seams and a little bit beyond self. I forget all about myself when I am singing, well, because I’m listening so hard. For something bigger. That’s an awfully good feeling.
Here are some good tunes for your kitchen (you know how I love how to dance in the kitchen), courtesy of Tift:
Bonnie Raitt – “Bluebird”
This is a tune from her first album, which I just love. She made it with a bunch of great blues musicians at a summer camp in Minnesota.
Bobby Charles – “Let Yourself Go”
This tune just feels like down south to me. Front porches, small town gossip, hot Saturdays, where I’m from. I love Bobby Charles.
Big Star – “When My Baby’s Beside Me”
Big Star is one of my favorite bands. This is definitely a late summer driving song.
Bobbie Gentry – “Mississippi Delta”
I am mad for Bobbie Gentry. Such a great lyricist and such grit. She played guitar her own way and is a truly singular voice.
Washington Phillips – “Wouldn’t Mind Dying If Dying Was All”
This is such a unique sound; a Texas minister with an angelic sounding guitar. “Got to go by myself.”
Richard Buckner – “Lil’ Wallet Picture”
Richard is such a rich writer and singer – I wish more people knew about him. I remember hearing this record (Devotion and Doubt) for the first time and it blew me away.
Skeeter Davis – “I Can’t Stay Mad At You”
What is more charming than Skeeter Davis and someone you can’t stay mad at?
Faces – “Cindy Incidentally”
Jesus, that groove.
Van Morrison – “He Ain’t Give You None”
This is from one of my favorite Van Morrison records, T.B. Sheets.
Delany & Bonnie – “Get Ourselves Together”
One of my favorite bands; always all-stars playing in their band like George Harrison. Just lots of energy.
Miles Davis – “Nuit Sur Le Champs-Elysées”
I found this album ages ago, and have always loved it, along with the pictures of Davis and Jeanne Moreau. From the film score Elevator to the Gallows; the film is so agitating to watch, but this song has always reminded me of midnight and Paris in a tranquil way.
Willie Nelson – “Hands on the Wheel”
From Red Headed Stranger, such a perfect piece of work. And never a bad way to close.
Photo courtesy of Peter Stanglmayr.