Among the thank-you notices issued in the liner notes to See You on the Moon is an acknowledgement to "all the ghosts that came by for a visit." That tends to suggest that Tift Merritt's fourth studio disc is something of a somber affair.
Not exactly. There are more than a few downbeat turns, with sentiments of stark, even forlorn introspection. Take, for instance, Six More Days of Rain. "All of the things you wish you could change, you keep washing away," Merritt sings with reserved authority over a Byrds-like guitar melody. It's a tune poetic in a Joni Mitchell sort of way but full of a rustic bluntness that better befits Lucinda Williams.
That's about as rockish as See You on the Moon gets, though. The rest of the album operates with a narrative sensibility more confessional than ghostly. Some of it is rooted in a folk-pop base that is neatly underscored by the production of Tucker Martine of Spoon and Sufjan Stevens fame. Witness as proof the complementary harmonies of My Morning Jacket's Jim James on Feel of the World and the way the tune opens from folky darkness to a fuller, more plaintive soundscape.
Operating from a similar song structure is Papercut, in which the emotional hesitancy ("I can't see why it would hurt but it does") is enhanced by an airy pop groove.
But the other songs on See You on the Moon are both darker and more fanciful. The album's title song embraces such quiet conflict. It's elegant and romantic but dances right on the edge of dashed hopes ("Just thought you'd be around for June; I know we never really promised, but I'll see you on the moon"). All the Reasons We Don't Have to Fight is slightly more affirmative — or at least promising — with a folkish melody that expands into a sweeping country-flavored elegy.
Saving Six More Days of Rain, Merritt wraps her new songs up with singing both delicate and desperate. It's a conversational device that nicely adds to the brittle detachment that has carried over from 2008's fine album Another Country.
Such emotional makeup surfaces with keen detail on a cover of the Loggins & Messina classic Danny's Song. The song's folky hope survives in Merritt's version. But the song's homespun charm can't help but seem a little battleworn.
That leads into the album-closing After Today, a piano ballad that brings to mind the starkly orchestrated battlements of a vintage Randy Newman song.
Maybe that's why the fancy surrounding See You on the Moon is so inviting. Its songs reach out to another world entirely. But its sentiments, troubled as they often seem, sound beautifully earthbound.