Maia Sharp just did two years ago what many singer-songwriters do. She moved to Nashville to be in the company of kindred spirits, hoping her change in scenery from L.A. would inspire her musically and give her personal life a necessary reboot. This is not to say she hadn’t enjoyed success as a writer, producer, and as a solo and duo performer. Sharp has written for Bonnie Raitt, The Chicks, Lisa Loeb, Trisha Yearwood, Art Garfunkel, Cher, Edwin McCain, Terri Clark, and many more in her genre agnostic – hard-to-pin-down approach which she has carried into her solo work and with the duo Roscoe & Etta (with Anna Shulze). Mercy Rising is her first album release since relocating to Nashville in 2019.
Most of the material here was written with co-writers, including two with Shulze and Sharp employed a two phase process in making the album. Basic tracks were recorded at her friend and multi-instrumentalist Joshua Grange’s studio with bass from Will Honaker, drums from Ross McReynolds and guitars from Grange. Sharp, like Grange, a multi-instrumentalist and engineer both, took the tracks to her home studio, adding keys, synths, guitars and vocals that involved these same co-writers – Mindy Smith, Peter Groenwald, PJ Pacifico, Schulze, Thomas Finchum, Cyd Greenwood and Gabe Dixon. Sharp added some of the instruments as did some of her collaborators.
The album opens with the title track, awash in a reverb-filled dense backdrop that recedes just enough as the guitar seems to indicate we’ve found some footing to let Sharp’s vocals soar above the backdrop- “I’ve been counting constellations/And I’m still waiting on mercy rising/You slipped between my fingers/But you never slipped my heart/Some otherworldly pull/Won’t Let us drift apart.” The “otherworldly” perhaps explains the choice of music behind it. “You’ll Know Who Knows You” carries a snappy pop vibe as Sharp recites a litany of the many wordless ways you can inform someone what you’ve noticed about them. “Backburner” is a Sharp-Shulze collaboration, another finger-popping groove expressing the futility of suppression. With its upbeat rhythm, it’s a great choice for the first radio single and is a clear standout track.
“Nice Girl” is deceptively sweet but apparently points to a bitter period with a certain person – “You’re going to make some nice girl miserable some day.” Other statements in this one make it particularly strong – “And you can’t take forever too seriously.” “When the World Doesn’t End” takes a slow tempo spiked by industrial city sounds as Sharp sings “I put a little makeup on to reinvent myself/Checking every subway car to see if you are there.” Grange’s mix of pedal steel and electric along with co-writer P.J. Pacifico’s vocal harmonies contribute toward another memorable track. “Whatever We Are” gets to its salient line quickly with Sharp moving from a confident expression to a whisper in just a few short words – “I love you, whatever we are” against the cushion of Grange’s pedal steel and Chris Carmichael’s strings to its conclusion “You’ll make me better, and you’ll break my heart.”
Noah Guthrie helped write and harmonizes on the most relatable song for the Type As, the smooth pop of “Things to Fix” – “Every time the second hand ticks/I think of something else I might have missed/ Oh, the list is getting longer/And I’m running out of breath.” “Junkyard Dog,” one that will likely be played often in live shows, has a pulsating rock style. “Not Your friend” is a co-write with Shulze but is not nearly as strong as “Backburner.” On the other hand, “Nowhere Together” with Cyd Greenwood, has some of the sparest accompaniment and finds Sharp in a tender mood in keeping with the sentiment “Nowhere is somewhere when I go there with you.”
“Mission” is about the love-hate relationship of two people on the road. Her line “And I hate that love you this much” reminds of Dylan’s “I hate myself for loving you.” The song builds from its light nourish beginning to powerful angst. “Always Good to See You” is the epitome of the album’s theme, love’s see-saw of emotions with lines like – “When I find a little meaning in the mess/I am still amazed at your ways of checking in” and “And it always breaks my heart, and it makes my day.” We find ourselves taking her words at face value and at other times reading sarcasm into them. That’s the beauty of great songwriting and few are adept at it as Maia Sharp.
- Jim Hynes
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