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Carri Lee & the Saddle-ites

Brought to You Via – 2006 (Star Tone)

Reviewed by Ken Burke

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CDs by Carri Lee & the Saddle-ites

Cari Lee Merritt changes up her style with a touch of jazz and a familiar sounding new vocal partner. Recorded in Texas, the 15-song set features welcome additions from producer Billy Horton's crack studio band, but it is the singer's own vocal personality that shines.

Merritt still tackles western swing ("I'm Hoping That You're Hoping") as if she were one of the genre's pioneers and makes traditional honky-tonk ("Did You Ever Come Home") wring with feeling. Further, she has fashioned a tougher rockabilly sound ("It's Alright By Me"), allowing some Buddy Holly influences to peek through ("Keep Me Company")

Surprisingly, Danny Santos appears frequently on duets ("Are You Lonesome") and solo numbers ("Heaven Only Knows"). Indeed, the Big Sandy sound-a-like enjoys an appealing, flirty chemistry with the CD's star. ("Nine Little Kisses"). Yet, it is Merritt's willingness to throw herself into a particular song's era that gives the album substance.

Adopting the persona of a 40's big band singer, the California-based singer-songwriter brings an aching, yet chipper feel to sock-rhythm shuffles ("Throw a Little Wood on the Fire") and cheek-to-cheek ditties ("When Your Way Gets Dark"). Moreover, when she coyly croons a love song ("Life is Sweet"), Merritt is utterly seductive. (Box 795, Alameda, Ca 94501)