Hear Tift Merritt’s Blues-Fueled ‘Dusty Old Man’
Singer-songwriter looked to Bonnie Raitt’s first album as inspiration for her bluesy, guitar-driven new tune
By David Menconi
Even though it’s been more than four years since Tift Merritt’s last solo album, 2012’s Traveling Alone, she’s hardly been idle. In fact, between releasing a collaborative album with classical pianist Simone Dinnerstein, working with Andrew Bird’s Hands of Glory and singing on country-soul band Hiss Golden Messenger’s latest album Heart Like a Levee (not to mention getting a cut on Don Henley’s most recent album, Cass County), she’s actually been more visible than ever.
But Merritt’s first music of her own since 2012 is out now, a track called “Dusty Old Man.” Powered by guitars from Marc Ribot and pedal-steel wiz Eric Heywood over a bouncy shuffle rhythm from drummer Jay Bellerose and bassist Jennifer Condos, “Dusty Old Man” has more of a bluesy, loose-limbed feel than anything Merritt has ever done.
“It also has (Iron & Wine’s) Sam Beam singing ‘love’ really loudly, and there is nothing better than that,” Merritt says with a laugh. “We cut it super-fast, live off the floor. I think it might have been take three. In writing the song, I’d been messing around with a lot of open tunings. The guitar really led on this one, open-tuned and way up the neck. One of my all-time favorite records is still Bonnie Raitt’s first album, which is so blue and fun and sweet and soulful. The guitar riffs I was playing reminded me of that, which seemed like a good thing.”
Merritt will join Hiss Golden Messenger out on the road this fall as both a special guest and band member, reprising her vocal-foil role on Heart Like a Levee. And even though she’ll be playing solo in her opening-act stints, without a rhythm section, “Dusty Old Man” will be in the setlist. The song finds Merritt describing her “Dusty Old Man” as being “mean as a snake” — and it’s hard not to wonder who it is, and if that’s true.
“Oh, wouldn’t you like to know?” Merritt teases, laughing again. “But like most songs, it’s open-ended. And aren’t all men sometimes like that, when they’re stubborn? My experience is that everyone has both lightness and darkness. And by now, I’ve been around the block a few times and can sing about callouses and experiences with some bruises of my own.”