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From the Country Standard Time Archives

The Carbines shake it all night long

Humble Pie, Raleigh, N.C., July 10, 1999

By Andy Turner

RALEIGH, N.C. - If you were trying to explain to someone the difference between mainstream country and alternative country, perhaps this would be a good way: A venue where Billy Ray Cyrus is performing will most likely not play 80's hardcore punk before Billy Ray hits the stage and AC/DC after he makes his exit. However, that's the way it went down before and after Tift Merritt and The Carbines conquered the Humble Pie.

You couldn't help but be taken aback as Merritt stepped up to the mike, fiddled with it for a second, and belted out a pining train song a cappella, an angel's voice immediately silencing your memory of Black Flag's "TV Party" and Suicidal Tendencies' "Institutionalized."

Merritt, clad in a black mini-skirt and red cowboy boots, packed one hell of a voice and presence in a small frame. She could sound as sweet as Emmylou Harris or Maria McKee, as twangy as Kelly Willis or Iris Dement, or as tough as Wanda Jackson or Loretta Lynn all in one song it seemed.

Although Merritt apologized for playing too many slow songs on a Saturday night, it was hard to complain about songs that showcased a voice that made your insides faint. And she had enough energy, enough hip twisting and toe tapping and guitar slinging to make Dwight Yoakam sweat and blush. Through the course of the band's set, Merritt knocked over her beer several times, broke the strings on two guitars and nearly dropped her guitar when the strap gave while she was trying to poke fun at the pedal steel player.

But what made Merritt's vocals cut even deeper was the solid backing of Margaret White's fiddle and Greg Reading's pedal steel. Their backing was particularly effective on several Carbines' numbers that ventured into hillbilly noir territory, songs that would not be out of place in a David Lynch movie.

The North Carolina-based band played originals like "Jukejoint Girl" and "Cowboy" and covers of Jean Shepard and Loretta Lynn songs with equal ease.

Tift Merritt and The Carbines are guaranteed to shake you all night long..

(The Carbines have yet to release a full-length album, but a 45 of "Jukejoint Girl" and "Cowboy" is available frp, Oil Rig Recordings, PO Box 323, Bynum, NC 27228). An EP featuring Merritt along with John Howie and Two Dollar Pistols is also in the works.)