- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 11, 2002

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The buzz on Tift Merritt is that she could be the next Bonnie Raitt. Or maybe the next Linda Ronstadt. Emmylou Harris also is mentioned.

On her debut album, "Bramble Rose," the former lead singer of the alternative country band the Carbines brings to mind those queens of 1970s California country rock and pushes their legacies forward for a new generation.

"I remember trying to listen to all these women's first records," says the 27-year-old Miss Merritt, who was born in Houston and raised in Raleigh, N.C. "Bonnie Raitt's first record is so awesome. It's blues, but she's feminine and strong."

Miss Merritt says she wasn't particularly influenced by the music of the '80s and early '90s. "When I was a teen-ager, nothing on the radio made sense. I didn't listen. I did like the Pixies.

"A lot of the girl rock that was coming along always had sort of that dancey beat. That is not who I am," she says. "I couldn't really sing punk rock. That wasn't where I was coming from."

Then an album by Miss Harris pointed her in the right direction.

"I got 'Quarter Moon in a Ten Cent Town' and I went, 'Oh, that is what I'm trying to do. That's what my voice is supposed to sing along with.' And from there I went back to Kitty Wells and the Band and forward to Lone Justice."

In 1998, Miss Merritt formed the Carbines with drummer Zeke Hutchins. Although she has become a solo act, recording on the Lost Highway Records label, the Carbines remain her backing band. Singer Ryan Adams recommended Miss Merritt to Lost Highway after she opened for him.

Q: Did Lost Highway live up to its reputation for letting artists have artistic freedom?

A: Nobody [from the label] came. We were all by ourselves in the studio in Los Angeles. It was awesome. They didn't call to see what songs we did. They didn't show up wondering what the single was.

I think I've been really lucky in my major-label experience in that I have not felt like I've been on a major label, except for some of the perks.

Q: Is it hard for the Carbines to accept being your backing band?

A: The drummer and I started the band, and we were deliberate in putting the band together so that it would last. I really wanted to hide and just have some time to grow and to figure out who I was musically. Then there did come a time where I thought, 'I'm ready this is about my songs. I can handle it.' They were like, 'Yea.' I think it's a great tribute to our friendship and to our ability to grow together.

Q: What are your expectations for your 'Bramble Rose' album?

A: My expectations are to perform and get better at performing and have fun performing and also to make another record with the quality the same, if not better, in the songwriting.

The band and I have been waiting to tour all this time. You know, play every night, live rock 'n' roll. That's what we want.

Q: How did you get the name Tift?

A: I was abandoned in a small Portuguese town called Tift. (Laughing.) I'm just kidding. It's actually my middle name. It's a family name. I'm the first girl to have it. It's quite an honor.

Q: Would you ever name one of your children Tift?

A: No. I am the only Tift at my dinner table.

WHAT: Tift Merritt performance

WHERE: Iota Club & Cafe, Arlington.

WHEN: Tonight at 8:30

TICKETS: $10 cover charge. For information, call 703/522-8340.

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