Carbines – Merritting attention
Things you should know about Tift Merritt: Her birthday is January 8, same as Elvis. She wears really cool cowboy boots. She writes headstrong songs about railroads, cowboys, rodeos, honky-tonks, cheatin’ — you know, the important stuff. And most important of all, she’s got a voice you just want to wallow in.
You know the playful sultriness Patsy Cline could evoke so well with just one word — “Seven lonely nights makes one lonely ME”? Similarly, you’ve never heard the word “tonight” evoke such amorous possibilities until you’ve heard Merritt coo (on the song “Lullaby”) “I’ll spread my wings for you…tonight.”
Belying the worldliness of her singing voice, Merritt just turned 24 years old. Her band the Carbines is likewise precocious. Together only since last summer in their current incarnation, the Carbines have quickly earned a reputation as one of the best honky-tonk bands in North Carolina.
In a way, Merritt owes her fast start to her parents. First her father taught her “those four chords everybody picks up,” she says, and then her mother sent her away to school.
“My mom had lived in North Carolina her whole life, and really wanted me to get out of here,” she says. “So she had this idea for me to go to boarding school in Connecticut, but I just hated it up there because I was so out of my element. So I sat in my dorm room for four years, and learned how to play and sing and listen. Up there, it didn’t matter what came out of my mouth — it was country.”
After boarding school, Merritt put off college for a few years and traveled. She went from town to town, waiting tables for money, keeping to herself and writing. She also ventured out to perform solo, learning firsthand just how annoying drunks can be when they insist on hearing Jimmy Buffett covers.
Eventually, she wound up back in Chapel Hill, working toward an American Studies/Creative Writing degree at the University of North Carolina (which she’ll earn in May). She also assembled the Carbines, whose lineup includes Comas fiddler Margaret White and drummer Zeke Hutchins from the college rock group Queen Sarah Saturday.
To date, Merritt’s only recorded output is a track listed under her own name on the Yep Roc compilation The Garden Place. A self-released Carbines single is also forthcoming.
Though the current Carbines lineup’s first show was on a sidestage at a LeAnn Rimes concert in Charlotte, Nashville schlockdom is a fate Merritt seems determined to avoid. “If we can play good shows and do the basics well, that’s the hard part,” she says. “We’re willing to go slow and do it the hard way. If we just wanted to make some money and get out fast, I think we could do that. But I want to play for a while.”