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This Friday and Saturday night, Aug. 27-28, Tift Merritt unveils her new album, Tambourine, with two CD-release party shows at the Cat's Cradle. Early reviews say the new disc is more upbeat and a little less country than Bramble Rose, her introspective 2002 debut on Lost Highway records.

As Raleigh native Merritt faces the world with her new band (Zeke Hutchens still drums and Jay Brown still plays bass, but guitarist Brad Rice and keyboard player Dan Eisenberg have replaced Dave Wilson and Greg Readling of Chatham County Line), she's about to embark on a major publicity push to see if she can cross the magic threshold into commercial radio airplay. Back home, though, we don't need a DJ to tell us what Merritt can do. She's been a star here for years. Sarah Lee & Johnny and Gary Louris open.

Shows start at 9 p.m.; doors at 8. $20 advance. Cat's Cradle: 967-9053.

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