Tift Merritt and what she terms a “dream cast” of musicians — including guitarist Marc Ribot, Calexico drummer John Convertino, steel guitarist Eric Heywood and multi-instrumentalist Rob Burger — spent just eight days recording Traveling Alone. But save for a definitively loose vibe and unadorned instrumentation, it’s not obvious that the singer-songwriter’s fifth studio album came together so quickly. Traveling Aloneis lovely and languid, preoccupied by restlessness of mind and body, and a deep desire to find a place to belong.Traveling Alone‘s music is subtle enough to let Merritt’s lyrics shine, especially on the acoustic-based title track and the Emmylou Harris-like “Feeling Of Beauty.” But the album’s arrangements also play to the strengths of its musicians: “Still Not Home” is rollicking alt-country with Heywood’s wrinkled pedal steel at the forefront, while Ribot’s contributions — especially the bluesy licks on the otherwise sparse “Spring” and the jagged country riffs driving “To Myself” — cut to the quick. Merritt herself even takes to the piano for the jaunty pop of “In The Way,” a song determined to find a bright future (“One day, I’ll never be lonely/ Oh yeah, it will really be something”). Such hints of optimism balance out Traveling Alone‘s most wrenching songs — and explain why the album never becomes bogged down by its search for self.