Two years after the release of her debut, the Oakland, Cal.-based Cari Lee Merritt has returned. The good news is that if you liked her debut, you'll like her latest; another collection of spirited western swing-influenced rockin' country; not unlike Big Sandy's Fly-Rite Boys if fronted by a female vocalist.
Merritt's vocals have grown smoother over the past two years (thanks perhaps to the demands of starring in a recent west coast stage production based on the career of the Maddox Brothers and Rose), and she particularly shines on "My San Antonio Baby," "Nobody Loves You (Like Me)" and a cover of Charline Arthur's "I'm Having a Party All By Myself." Merritt's secret weapon here, as on her debut, is her backing band; an uncannily tight outfit greatly enhanced by lead guitarist Steve Merritt (Cari Lee's husband and also a member of the Stillmen) and steel guitarist Billy Wilson.
As a bonus the album also includes video footage of two recent Spanish TV performances, showing off Cari Lee's on-stage confidence and the interplay of her crack outfit to fine effect. Highly recommended.