With her clear, controlled voice and zestful, sensual delivery, Tift Merritt deserves to move from the fringes of stardom onto the A list of country-rockers thanks to this joy of an album, her second. It includes 11 songs written by the North Carolinian her-self. Among the highlights are "Still Pretending," a deliberate meditation on romantic delusion, the back-to-basics ballad "Plainest Thing," the Motown-flavored "Your Love Made a U-Turn" and the punched-up rocker "Write My Ticket." Although she professes Aretha Franklin and Maria McKee to be her role models and has often been compared to such '60s and '70s country-folk types as Judy Collins, Emmylou Harris and Linda Ronstadt, Merritt never seems to be trying to sound like any-one else, which makes her all the more striking. And her backup band, propelled by drummer Don Heffington and spiced by Robert Randolph's steel guitar, complements her unobtrusively. It's hard to imagine Merritt becoming as huge as, say, Shania Twain, but it's easy to imagine her becoming a steady, widely respected pillar of the Nashville community.
•DOWNLOAD THIS: "Write My Ticket"