The Lost Highway debut of North Carolinian Tift Merritt marks the auspicious emergence of a major talent.

The Lost Highway debut of North Carolinian Tift Merritt marks the auspicious emergence of a major talent. Ethan John's understated, dead-on production provides the perfect setting for Merritt's wondrous voice, gliding effortlessly between quavering vulnerability and soaring power. The songs, recorded with her band, the Carbines, are top shelf, without exception: "Trouble Over Me" is a tender-and-tough ballad, while "Virginia, No One Can Warn You" and "Diamond Shoes" are gently loping, steel-drenched gems. Merritt shows her modern-rock colors, à la Sheryl Crow, with the biting "Neighborhood." She ventures into softer Stones territory on "Bird of Freedom"; "Sunday" and the title cut are softly swaying country blues ballads. As a songwriter, Merritt is daring, confident, and often heartwrenching, like on the aching "Supposed to Make You Happy," and the 4 a.m. confessional feel of "Are You Still in Love With Me." A very special record by a major new artist.—RW

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