Carolina singer/songwriter Tift Merritt has glammed up her image a bit for her second Lost Highway release, which finds her pushing her already considerable talents to new heights.

Carolina singer/songwriter Tift Merritt has glammed up her image a bit for her second Lost Highway release, which finds her pushing her already considerable talents to new heights. In some ways, Merritt has taken her Carolina musicality on a Memphis run, with much of the record owning an R&B/rock flair. Mike Campbell's tasteful guitar licks spice up the perceptive "Stray Paper," and "Late Night Pilgrim" rocks along quite nicely. Soulful horns and background vocals are a perfect touch on "Good Hearted Man," as is the Hammond B-3 on the sexy "Ain't Looking Closely." Much of the material here is light years away from the artist's previous work: "Your Love Made a U-Turn" is brassy funk, while "I Am Your Tambourine" is a sweaty, hard-charging boogie rave-up performed with road-seasoned confidence and aplomb. Merritt still flexes some serious songwriting chops on the well-drawn "Laid a Highway." While producer George Drakoulias' touch remains present throughout, the reality is this: Ms. Merritt is becoming a star.—RW