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Tift Merritt Makes Her Mark on Country Music - 2002-07-02

Texas-born, North Carolina-raised Tift Merritt is still a relative unknown to most music fans. But that's all about to change. Lost Highway records has just released her debut album, Bramble Rose, to rave reviews that compared the singer and songwriter to a young Emmylou Harris or Maria McKee.

When she went in to the studio, Tift Merritt said she wanted to make an album in the style of early Linda Ronstadt, early Emmylou Harris and early Bonnie Raitt. The 11 tracks on "Bramble Rose," starting with "Trouble Over Me" prove she's achieved just that.

Tift Merritt started writing songs when she was a teenager, began performing a few years later, going on to win the prestigious Chris Austin songwriting contest at the 2000 Merlefest music festival. Soon after, she signed with Lost Highway records, home to Robert Earl Keen and Lucinda Williams; two other artists straddling that fine line between country and rock.

While Tift doesn't yet have the songwriting skills or stage skills of those singers, she's not a total novice. Fans of alternative-country music are probably familiar with her name, if not her music, through a large article in No Depression magazine. Tift has attracted a large following from her years of playing in North Carolina and at events like the South-by-Southwest music conference. One of the standout tracks on Bramble Rose is the piano-based "Bird of Freedom," that Tift said is about a friend's father who was killed in Vietnam.

Tift Merritt hates to put a label on her music. But when pressed, she once blurted out "Dolly Parton meets Bob Dylan." It's definitely not the type of country music that's coming out of Nashville. Neither is it rock nor folk.

With influences that include Dylan, the Rolling Stones and Emmylou Harris, Tift says she just tries to emulate what she thinks good songs sound like. You can certainly hear the influence of Emmylou on this track, "Diamond Shoes."

Bramble Rose is an excellent first album from a singer and songwriter that experts are pegging to become a big star. Tift Merritt proves she a literate songwriter and vocalist; a newcomer who's here to stay.