It opens with a clatter, flashes with epiphany and resolves itself into prayer. However the listener comes to terms with the sixth studio album by Tift Merritt, Stitch of the World (out January 27 on Yep Roc), it’s a song cycle that sounds deeper and richer with each listening. Co-produced by Merritt and Sam (Iron and Wine) Beam, a featured vocal partner on the last three tracks, it bristles with the interplay of drummer Jay Bellerose (who provides that glorious clatter on the opening “Dusty Old Man”), steel guitarist Eric Heywood and multi-stringed virtuoso Marc Ribot. Plus of course, Merritt on piano, providing the foundation of church chording from which “Heartache Is An Uphill Climb” ascends and the fallen “Icarus” soars. This is music that can feel bruises and can cause a few as well. The album plainly serves as a catharsis for the artist and will for the listener as well, illuminating love from all sorts of lenses, but none that would render it as smooth. It personifies love (“Love Soldiers On”), it shows how love lifts the soul (“Something Came Over Me”), it ruminates through the devastating reflection of love’s aftermath (“Eastern Light”). With the communal celebration of “My Boat” adapted from a poem by Raymond Carver, and with a Southern spirituality of Flannery O’Connor permeating much of the rest (including the title track), this may be Merritt’s most ambitiously literary effort, but never in the sort of mannered, prissy way that would undermine the musical power. The best release of this young year.