TRES CHICAS

"Sweetwater"

Yep Roc

TRISH MURPHY

"Girls Get in Free"

Raven

The proof that Raleigh, N.C., has become an epicenter of roots rock is its new Americana super-group: Tres Chicas. The band includes three female lead singers -- Caitlin Cary (Whiskeytown), Lynn Blakey (Let's Active and Glory Fountain) and Tonya Lamm (Hazeldine) -- and three backing musicians -- producer-bassist Chris Stamey (the dB's), keyboardist Jen Gunderman (Jayhawks) and drummer Skillet Gilmore (Whiskeytown). But this is not the usual case of acquaintances throwing something together in the studio; Tres Chicas played local bars for four years before recording their delightful debut, "Sweetwater."

As a result, these songs are carefully crafted with worked-out vocal harmonies and instrumental arrangements. Stamey -- the architect of the Raleigh sound as producer of albums by himself, Cary, Thad Cockrell and Alejandro Escovedo -- has a knack for making things sound very sparse and yet very musical at the same time. This leaves plenty of room for each of the lead singers to poke around in the corners of heartache, while her partners offer sympathetic harmonies. Cary's dark alto provides the best vocals on "Desire" and "In a While," but Blakey provides the catchiest tunes, "Heartbeat" and the title track. Balancing out the confessional laments are spirited covers of honky-tonk numbers by Loretta Lynn and George Jones.

Trish Murphy has reinvented herself several times, and the latest incarnation should be a keeper. She wasn't enough of a lyricist to be an Austin singer-songwriter and she wasn't enough of a cowboy to be the next Pat Green (though Green did record one of her songs). But she writes anthemic melodies and has the siren soprano to nail them, so on her latest release, "Girls Get in Free," she becomes a pop-rocker in the new wave vein of the Bangles and Go-Go's.

When she describes how she and a girlfriend, both newly divorced, drove out of Texas like "Thelma and Louise," the song explodes with drums and melody like a pink convertible hitting a New Mexico straightaway. When she declares that she's recovering from a heartbreak by "Crying as Fast as I Can," the jangly guitars and lilting tune imply that it won't take long.

-- Geoffrey Himes

Appearing Friday at Iota. * To hear a free Sound Bite from Tres Chicas, call Post-Haste at 301-313-2200 and press 8110; to hear Trish Murphy, press 8111. (Prince William residents, call 703-690-4110.)