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Carri Lee & the Saddle-ites

Red Barn Baby – 2001 (El Toro (Spanish import))

Reviewed by Jon Johnson

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CDs by Carri Lee & the Saddle-ites

For the past several years, the west coast has been a hotbed for a distinctive blend of hillbilly, rockabilly and western swing not heard since the heyday of Hank Thompson and the Maddox Brothers and Rose. And though the Dave and Deke Combo, the Lucky Stars and Big Sandy and His Fly-Rite Boys have been the region's best-known exports to date, Bay Area singer Cari Lee Merritt does a fine job of reviving the west coast swingin' hillbilly sound of the late '40's and early '50's on her debut.

Blessed with a big, brassy voice, Merritt leads her rock-solid band through a dozen originals and covers. In particular, Merritt's "'Til I Met You" is a foot-stomping number that employs her unusual vibrato to good effect, as does "Hadacol Rhythm," an ode to the infamous patent medicine of the '40's and '50's. In addition, Merritt and band raid the Rose Maddox catalogue not once, but twice with solid renditions of "Stop Whistlin' Wolf" and "You're Gonna Be Sorry Some of These Days."

A promising debut, featuring some particularly praiseworthy steel and lead guitar work from Billy Wilson and Steve Merritt, respectively.