Record Of The Week # 112

Maia Sharp – Mercy Rising

A move to Nashville from LA with the end of a long term relationship and the coming to grips with a new home fostered a desire to move on in many ways. This confessional album muses on relationships coupled with many wry observations and desires about those around her. She’s a great wordsmith and the music nods to several genres with singer songwriter being the most evident although this sits comfortably in the country/americana orbit. Sharp has made her living by being principally a writer for other artists; credits read the (Dixie) Chicks, Trisha Yearwood, Terri Clark and Kim Richey (whose sound she is probably closest to on this latest album.)

Her voice is a siren call: warm with an impressive range that’s conveys emotions that come thick and fast through ten songs. From the sarcasm of “Nice Girl” to the lustful “Not Your Friend” she sings over a sophisticated soundtrack of smooth beats and the varied, sublime guitar sounds of Joshua Grange. The arrangements are uncluttered and you feel that every note has arrived in just the correct place after considerable collaboration. Sharp herself is accomplished multi-instrumentalist and wearing her producer’s hat, she demonstrates impressive mastery of the controls.

I enjoyed all the songs: most are co-writes with other Nashville-based writers and several songs have been around for a few years. The single, “Backburner”, draws metaphors from cooking and is a steamy love song – “It’s a hell of a way to say turn the flame up higher / When I put you on the backburner / You set the place on fire”. The rhythm is 80s The Police (maybe not a complete coincidence as Sharp was first signed to Miles Copeland’s IRS label.) On “Whatever We Are” Anna Shulze and Thomas Finchum join for harmonies to create a sublime sound over sustained electric guitars. All this smoothness however doesn’t draw the best out of “Junkyard Dog”. The edgy rock guitars and lyrics are there but it needs spitting out by an angrier soul, railing against their treatment like a neglected, tethered animal; Sharp comes across as the type of narrator who may think it but would never say it.

The cinematic “Missions” ends the album. She recounts a long drive across country with a sleeping passenger. Sharp reflects on their relationship, the trusting sleeper, and then ultimately, and ruefully, her dilemma: “I guess letting you go is tomorrow’s mission”. This release exudes class from start to finish.

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