From The Desk Of Tift Merritt: Mississippi John Hurt

Tift Merritt is about as approachable as they come. An email inquiry to her press rep prompts an almost immediate response from the artist herself. “I’m happy to catch you up on what we’ve been up to lately and the like … just let me know if phone or email is better for you.” Merritt’s only stipulation: that any interview happen after 11 a.m., so she can get in her daily practice session on a piano she’s been using at a club not far from her Manhattan apartment. You could argue that, with a voice like hers, Merritt should be able to afford her dream piano by now. But while she may not be a household name (yet), she’s on a trajectory not unlike a few of her singer/songwriter luminaries (Emmylou Harris, Lucinda Williams), stockpiling critical plaudits and fan adoration for the four studio albums she’s released since 2002. Her most recent, See You On The Moon (Fantasy), is the scaled-back, introverted antithesis of what may be her only bid for a wider audience, 2004’s polished roots-rock zinger Tambourine. That’s the one that earned her a Grammy nod for best country album. (Guess no one bothered to tell the academy it wasn’t country.) Merritt will be guest editing all week. Read our brand new Q&A with her.

Merritt: I wish I could have Mississippi John Hurt over for dinner. I’d cook him something so good and have him sit down and enjoy himself and stay as long as he liked. Music has so many reasons for being born: dancing, celebrating, spreading the bad news and the good news and the gossip, too. But whenever I listen to Mississippi John Hurt, I think that is the sound of a good man. A way deep-down kind of gentle, generosity of spirit. John Smith Hurt was a sharecropper from Avalon, Miss. I never knew him, but I hope I can live a little bit like that kind and real sound.

Video after the jump.

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