Sunday, April 4, 2021

Maia Sharp: “Mercy Rising” (2021) CD Review

Maia Sharp is a singer and songwriter, currently based in Nashville, where her new album, Mercy Rising, was recorded. You might be familiar with Maia Sharp’s material, even if you haven’t listened to her solo albums, for her songs have also been recorded by Bonnie Raitt, David Wilcox, Edwin McCain, Trisha Yearwood, Lisa Loeb, and Cher, among others. She’s also played on an Art Garfunkel album (along with Buddy Mondlock). Her new album features all original material, written or co-written by Maia Sharp. On this release she is joined by Joshua Grange on electric guitar, Will Honaker on bass, and Ross McReynolds on drums, along with some other guests on certain tracks.

The album opens with its title track, “Mercy Rising,” which eases in, its opening giving us the sense that we’ve stepped onto a strange landscape, partially obscured by a haze. As our eyes adjust, or rather our ears, a guitar emerges, a familiar sign of humanity in the distance. Then Maia Sharp’s vocals are a welcome friend in this place. “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 song takes on a certain beauty, aided by the strings by Chris Carmichael. And I love that moment when Maia’s vocals build in power toward the end, reaching some glorious spot, taking us with her. She also plays guitar and piano on this track, and is joined by Mindy Smith and Peter Groenwald on backing vocals. Mindy Smith also co-wrote the song with Maia Sharp. Then “You’ll Know Who Knows You” establishes a nice groove at the start, quickly distinguishing it from the opening track. Not that this one doesn’t possess its own particular beauty, for it does, mostly in its chorus. And check out these lines: “I won’t shy away from your shadows/We’ll tell our story to the walls/You won’t have to tell me how to spend my time/Heartbeat saying everything I need to hear/Loud like a cannonball.” This one was written by Maia Sharp and Emily Kopp.

“Nice Girl” is a sweet-sounding song with the great line, “You’re going to make some nice girl miserable someday,” which is delivered with a certain amount of love, which only makes the line even more striking. In part because of that line, this song is one of my personal favorites. There are plenty of other memorable lyrics in this song, such as these lines: “You can’t make a river stop thinking about the sea/And you can’t change somebody who doesn’t want to change/And you can’t take forever too seriously.” This one was written by Park Chisolm and Maia Sharp, and features Gabe Dixon joining on organ. That’s followed by “When The World Doesn’t End,” which has an interesting pulse, a sound and song of the city. “I put a little makeup on to reinvent myself/Checking every subway car to see if you are there.” This is another of the disc’s highlights. Joshua Grange plays steel guitar as well as electric guitar on this one, and P.J. Pacifico, who co-wrote the song, joins Maia Sharp on vocals. “So what do you do when the world doesn’t end/When the world doesn’t end/I think of all the stupid things we did/Building up that wasted emotion/And we ran away like scared little kids/Ran out of words, and nobody would have heard anyway.”

“Whatever We Are” features some beautiful work by Joshua Grange on steel guitar, and by Chris Carmichael on strings. Yet it is Maia Sharp’s vocal delivery that really makes this track something special. I particularly love her delivery of the line “I love you, whatever we are,” the way she dips into her lower register at the end of the line. This track features some wonderful lines, such as “Two airplanes flying uncomfortably close” (a great image and metaphor) and “Changing the station, or singing along/In the back of my mind, or the back of your car.” Yes, this is another of my favorites. “You’ll make me better, and you’ll break my heart.” Then “Things To Fix” has a bit of a pop flavor. The lyrics are some I think many of us will be able to relate to: “No, there ain’t enough hours in the day/To patch it up and dust it off and make it all okay/What I should have said and what I should have done/Yeah, I keep skipping over number one/On my list of things to fix.” Wow, those are excellent lines. I myself make a list of things to do each day, and yeah, sometimes those little things might get done, but the important, big jobs remain unaccomplished, and time keeps flying by. Check out these lines: “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.” This exceptional song was co-written by Noah Guthrie, who also provides backing vocals.

“Nowhere Together” begins with an intimate, tender sound, and soon kicks in. It’s a wonderful love song. Here is a taste of the lyrics: “Take the fear with the freedom/Won’t miss the world I’m leaving/Nowhere is somewhere when I go there with you.” Cyd Greenwood, who co-wrote the song, joins Maia Sharp on vocals. This one reminds me at times of Aimee Mann, especially that instrumental section in the second half. That’s followed by “Missions.” When this one begins, we find ourselves on the road, its opening lines being: “You wake up and ask am I doing okay, can I keep driving/As if you could take over if I said no/I tell you I got it, you fall back asleep because you trust me/That’s what keeps me awake, that’s what keeps my eyes open.” Now that is completely beautiful, and yet also hints at something darker. And things are not as wonderful as we first might be led to believe, for she soon sings, “And I feel more alone than if you hadn’t come/You whisper to thank me for powering through/And I hate that I love you this much.” Then, than halfway through, the song goes to another level, becoming more powerful. The album concludes with “Always Good To See You,” yet another of the its highlights. I love the way it builds. And check out these lines: “And the ripple tends to find a shore if I know what I’m watching for/The ordinary becomes a very big deal/When I hear myself say what I wish that I’d said then/When I find a little meaning in the mess/I am still amazed at your ways of checking in.” The line “And it always breaks my heart, and it makes my day” touches on a similar idea and feeling as the line “It’s making me better, and it’s breaking my heart” from “Whatever We Are.”

CD Track List

  1. Mercy Rising
  2. You’ll Know Who Knows You
  3. Backburner
  4. Nice Girl
  5. When The World Doesn’t End
  6. Whatever We Are
  7. Things To Fix
  8. Junkyard Dog
  9. Not Your Friend
  10. Nowhere Together
  11. Missions
  12. Always Good To See You

Mercy Rising is scheduled to be released on May 7, 2021.

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