Maia Sharp turns in her finest album with ‘Mercy Rising’

Singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Maia Sharp has just released the best damn album of her career with “Mercy Rising.”

I told her during an interview a couple of weeks ago that I felt weird paying her that compliment because her body of work prior to “Mercy Rising” is tremendous and I’ve been a fan of her music for what feels like forever. Maia, however, appreciated where I was coming from. “It’s the most true to life. It is the most drawn from actual experience and emotion and strife than any of the other ones. Of course everybody says that their latest is their favorite but what makes it a favorite to me is it’s truly confessional. The other ones would have little glimmers of that but this one is all the way.”

ALL THE WAY INDEED.

The first Sharp song I ever knew is “Willing to Burn,” from her self-titled album released in 2002. I just gave it a fresh listen and it holds up nearly two decades later.

Ditto for “Long Way Home,” from that same album. We’ve all been there; on the shit end of a relationship when you realize that it ain’t you babe they’re looking for and you’re reduced to drive-bys as you look for the pieces of your heart along the side of the road.

Fast-forward eight years when Sharp released “Fine Upstanding Citizen” and I finally got to see her live in Portland, Maine. The single “Something Wild,” like “Willing to Burn” is as fresh to me as the day I first heard it as Sharp sings about how the hunt is often better than actually landing your prey and it’s usually better to leave well enough alone, despite how difficult it can be. “You were so beautiful from where I stood/So I chased you down and held you as close as I could/That’s when the fire turned cold/Maybe you’re not supposed to hold something wild.” Vocally, the standout track on the “Fine” album to me is “Kinder Blues,” which I still beg Sharp to play live. She usually does. Because she rules.

In 2015 Sharp released the album “The Dash Between The Dates,” homes to songs like the golden nugget that is “Nothing But the Radio.” Not only that, the album closes with the just-kill-me-now ballad “I Don’t Want Anything to Change” which Sharp penned years ago and was first recorded by none other than Bonnie Raitt on her 2005 album “Souls Alike.” Around that time, Raitt played in Portland (Maine) and Boston with Sharp as the opener and they sang the song together. In fact, another track on that Raitt album called “I Will Not Be Broken” features Sharp’s vocals and it’s one of my personal anthems. Sharp also co-wrote the song “Crooked Crown” on Raitt’s “Souls” album.

It’s my blog so I’ll veer off if I want to. You GOTTA take a minute and watch this clip from 2013 of Bonnie joining Maia and guitarist Linda Taylor on stage for “I Don’t Want Anything to Change.”

There have been other albums and singles so do yourself a favor and go down the Maia Sharp rabbit hole and listen to it all. If nothing else, listen to “Sober” from the 2012 album “Change The Ending.” Trust me. Oh and “Me After You” as well. Yeah. You GOTTA hear that one.

Now onto “Mercy Rising.” It is after all May 7, 2021. AKA ALBUM RELEASE DAY!

Here’s what Bonnie Raitt had to say in a press release about “Mercy Rising”

“I think I have my favorites then another slays me. Maia is a master in her absolute prime – out of the ballpark once again, but this one really ignites everything that is different and brilliant about her writing, singing, songwriting and production. I’m running out of superlatives!”.

Bonnie, I feel seen…

Sharp has ventured into a whole new galaxy of mood and emotion with “Mercy Rising” and boy oh boy am I here for it.

Sharp moved from her California home of many, many years to Nashville in 2019. I’m not going to unpack her personal life but yeah, some relationship stuff shifted. The good news is she’s settled comfortably into the Music City.

Sharp also had to deal with Covid-19 that hit her soon after a natural disaster hit the state of Tennessee. A tornado touched down and did substantial damage in her Nashville neighborhood in March of 2020, a very short time before the abrupt pandemic lock down.

“One street over houses were complete annihilated. Then for the next six blocks to the north of me it was just random annihilation. So that was very scary but I was very fortunate,” recalled Sharp. In the immediate aftermath lots of benefit shows and hugs happened and although the storm spared her, the virus didn’t and Sharp was knocked sideways by it with the added bonus of pneumonia. Thankfully a handful of local friends she referred to as “porch angels” kept her medicine cabinet and pantry well-stocked as she recovered.

Now where were we?

Maia Sharp. Photo by John Partipilo

THE NEW RECORD!

The title track, “Mercy Rising” opens the album and sets the tone for the rest of it. With stunning strings by Chris Carmichael the song is its own planet of mood.

“I’ve lived a revolution, every season come and gone/I’m looking to the sky/What’s taking so long/I’ve been counting constellations and I’m still waiting on mercy rising.”

Co-written with Sharp’s longtime friend and fellow musician Mindy Smith, it’s as if Sharp has crossed over into a whole other plain of existence as an artist. The song really is that good.

I asked Maia to break it down for me, how she came to the words “mercy rising.”

“I remember stewing for a really long time on that one and just playing through the chord progression with a feeling and a frustration that I wanted to get out about just  feeling stuck and having changed so much about my life but still feeling like this one nagging element and it wasn’t changing. “

She continued.

“It was like OK I don’t know what to do, something has to change. I’ve changed everything I know how to change. Show me a shift. It  wasn’t a religious thing. It was just like can something it nature just be different? Can that star be over there now? Just show me something changing. ” Sharp said she rambled like a crazy person for a long time before landing on “mercy rising”. “I felt like I needed some mercy from somewhere because I don’t feel like I’m creating it myself.”

I scribbled thoughts down about every track on the album and will share a few of them.

“Missions” is one that Maia wrote herself without any collaborators. It’s “ouch” factor is high in terms of opening a vein of emotion with lines like “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.” My tones include the words EPIC and WOW and I’m sticking with them.

I noted the slow, moody groove of “Junkyard Dog” and its fantastic refrain. “Junkyard dog at the end of that chain/Junkyard dog howling out in vaine/Fighting for a love you don’t care about/Protecting something you can live without/I thought I was the queen of your castle/Turns out I’m just your junkyard dog.” Speaking of dogs, the track bares its razor sharp teeth and the musicians on it like Will Honaker and Joshua Grange absolutely slay. You even hear Sharp playing her sax on it. Pure fire.

“Not Your Friend” is another exposed heart confessional. “You might say that you never wanna see me again/But I’m not OK hearing about some girl that you might think be the one.” Despite the bitter pills being swallowed, the song is righteous and another feather in the cap of an absolutely spectacular album.

“Whatever We Are,” written by Sharp, Thomas Finchum and Sharp’s Roscoe & Etta musical partner Annu Schulze features Joshua Grange’s stellar guitar and Chris Carmichael’s strings and in the song, Sharp makes her way across the hot coals and into a place of peaceful resignation. Finchum and Schulze’s backing vocals make it all the more poignant.

Could I go on and on and on about the other songs on “Mercy Rising?” OF COURSE I COULD. But I ‘d rather send you off into the world to discover them for yourself and figure out what your favorites are. I really love the hell out of this album and think you will too.

ALSO: Here’s a little Maia Sharp 101 because her career is really quite something and if she’s a new artist to you, you’ll love these fun facts courtesy of a detailed press releases:

“Maia has always managed to play both sides of the songwriting field, writing for notable artists including Bonnie Raitt, The Chicks, Lisa Loeb, Trisha Yearwood, Art Garfunel, Cher, Edwin McCain, Terry Clark and many more while still recording her own albums. Through the years, “I Need this to be Love,” (Hardly Glamour 1997), “Willing to Burn” (Maia Sharp 2002), “Red Dress” (Fine, Upstanding Citizen 2005), “Death By Perfection” (Echo, 2010), “Me After You” (Change the Ending 2012) and “Nothing but the Radio” (The Dash Between the Dates, 2015) have all enjoyed Triple A (AAA) radio success. Her last two releases were with her due Roscoe & Etta (with writing/production partner Anna Schulze) yielding another Triple A favorite “Broken Headlights.”

HAPPY ALBUM RELEASE DAY, MAIA!

NOTE: Today, May 7, Maia will be performing LIVE on her FACEBOOK page at 7 p.m. (EDT). COOL!

Ponti out.

The 43 Best Songs of 2018

Hi.

I’ll start by saying that as soon as I hit the almighty “publish” button on this thing I’m going to start twitching and a wall of angst will close in around me as I’ll suddenly remember all of the incredible songs I left off of this list.

As someone who wears a few hats as a music journalist, radio host and music blogger I am inundated with new music in a way that I can’t even begin to keep up with.  This causes me equal parts joy and stress. But here’s the good news: I’m not going to let that stop me from sharing this year’s crop of songs because this list comes from an honest place and one of sheer joy.

Some of these songs are from artists  I am a hardcore fan of, others are ones I’m just getting to know. But they’re all songs that I have mad love and respect for and ones that have moved me to tears, made me dance, raise my fist in the air and most of all, experience the range of emotions that can only be elicited from music.

I started working on this list in January and every time a strong struck me in just the right way, I added to it. A few came in just under the proverbial wire (I’m looking at you, SHEL and Dido) and in some cases, there are two songs from the same artist because I couldn’t help myself.

I’m now going to sit and write out this list and if I have something specific to say about a song on it, I’ll say it. In some cases I may share a photo and/or video. These songs are not are in any particular order. I love all of these songs for different reasons and with different parts of my heart, mind and soul.

So we’re good on the disclaimers front right?

OK then. With a mixture of nerves, excitement and above all love I offer up my list of the 43 best songs of 2018!


1. “Mr. Weinstein Will See You Now” by Amanda Palmer & Jasmine Power. I had a lot to say about this song and video. Amanda Palmer is many things to me including hero, spirit animal, source of huge inspiration, incredible songwriter and all around spectacular human. Take your time with this song and this video. (btw, video is NSFW).

2. “Heroin” by Lucy Wainwright Roche. Holy shit.I could easily put the entire “Little Beast” album on this list. Tremendous record. Do yourself a favor and check out”Little Beast” and LWR’s previous stuff too.

3. “Party of One” by Brandi Carlile. First off, I’m THRILLED beyond words that Carlile got SIX Grammy Nominations! “By The Way, I Forgive You” is among my absolute favorite records of the year. And yeah, ‘The Joke’ is epic. But it’s the song “Party of One”  that REALLY kills me on the album.  It straight up makes me cry. I saw Carlile many times in 2018 and the song brought me to tears in Massachusetts, Maine, Rhode Island and Colorado.  BTW, I interviewed Carlile a few months ago. Read it here. Also, I reviewed “By The Way, I Forgive You.” And while I’m at it, here’s my review of her show at Red Rocks in August. She’s also a huge part of my review of the 2018 Newport Folk Festival.  I guess you could say I’m a big fan. How big? This kid is going on the Girls Just Wanna Weekend Mexico trip in January. (and yep, I’ll be writing about it here).

Also, HOLY SHIT. A video for the song starring Elisabeth Moss was dropped on Dec. 11. I can’t even…

Brandi Carlile
Brandi Carlile at the Newport Folk Festival. 7.29.18. Photo by Aimsel Ponti

4. “Dreamers” by Judy Collins. I saw Collins sing this live in Portland (Maine) a few months back and I sat there in stunned silence, tears rolling down my face such is its impact. One of the most important songs of 2018 hands down. “Dreamers” is written from the perspective of an immigrant woman and it’s a poignant, emotional song of stark desperation with some “fuck you, Trump” in there as well (in not so many words).  It’s just the famous, timeless vocals of Collins, no instruments. Ready yourself and click here.

5. “Halls of Sarah” by Neko Case. Case’s “Hell-On” is another one on my very short list of favorite albums of 2018. This woman can do no wrong in my book. That voice! That songwriting! “Halls of Sarah” is a goddamn spectacular song off of a goddamn spectacular record. P.S. Follow Case on Twitter. She takes no shit and it’s glorious.

6. “Good As Gold” by Sarah Shook & the Disarmers. From the “Years” album. I’ve got a mad crush of Shook and am still in discovery mode with her whiskey drinkin’ outlaw country sound. I’m pissed I haven’t seen she and her band live yet but I have feeling that will change in 2019. So yeah, “Good As Gold.” Love at first listen. Catchy AF.

7. “Famous” by Serena Ryder (featuring Simon Ward of The Strumbellas). As far as singing along with a huge, gorgeous melody goes, it doesn’t get much better than this one. I’ve been addicted to this song since I first heard it months ago on WCLZ. “Famous” makes me happy.

8. “Wouldn’t Want To Be Like You”  by Sheryl Crow (featuring Annie Clark). I mean it’s Sheryl Crow with St. Vincent for god’s sake.  I ain’t got nuthin’ else to say about this mighty fine song. Just listen.

9. “Such A Simple Thing” by Ray LaMontagne. Lest you think there wasn’t gonna be any fellas on this list. I know a beautiful song when I hear one. This song is a million percent lovely.

10. “I Can Change” by Lake Street Dive. My oh my what a song.  I adore this band. Had a chance to chat with singer Rachael Price last summer. Not only is the song a tender ballad that will hit you in the feels, the video is pretty special too.

11. “City Looks Pretty” by Courtney Barnett. From her scorching album “Tell Me How You Really Feel.” Interviewed Barnett this summer and saw her explosive yet all smiles set at Newport Folk Festival.  She’s the absolute bomb and “City Looks Pretty” is but one example.

Courtney Barnett
Courtney Barnett at the Newport Folk Festival. 7.28.18. Photo by Aimsel Ponti

12. “Diamonds” by JanaeSound. JanaeSound’s real name is Janay Woodruff and she lives right here in Maine. This is my favorite local song of the year and I’ve all but worn it out on my Music from 207 local radio show on WCLZ.  I also wrote about her. We’re lucky to have her in Maine. “Diamonds” is sacred to me and it’s got heart and inspiration to spare.

13. “Fruity” by Rubblebucket. I love this song because it’s fun, vibrant and full of surprises. Saw the band open for Lake Street Dive last summer and they were fabulous. Dig “Fruity!”

14. “Strangers” by Katie Herzig. The song is from the sensational album “Moment of Bliss” and Katie Herzig is a wildly talented and innovative artist. Here’s our chat from April and here’s “Strangers.”

15. “The Things We Do to Each Other” by Cowboy Junkies. Somehow I managed to forget how much I LOVE this band. But I fell back in love big-time upon hearing their “All That Reckoning” album and seeing them live at The Music Hall in Portsmouth, NH last summer.  Just so happens I recorded their jaw-dropping take on Bowie’s “Five Years”. I digress. Check out the entire “All That Reckoning” album when you can. In the meantime, here’s “The Things We Do To Each Other.”

16. “Parking Lot Pirouette” by Amanda Shires. Her exquisite album is called “To The Sunset.” Just listen to this moody tune. Jesus.

17. “Never Surrender” by Rose Cousins. You’re damn right I mean a cover of the 80s Corey Hart song. Rose Cousins has taken the already powerful song (there, I said it) and turned it into something truly remarkable. Among the best damn covers I’ve ever heard of any song.  So if you’re lost and on your own…listen to this!

18. “All This Time” by Katie Herzig. Yep, she made the list again. This is my favorite “Moment of Bliss” track. Why? Hear for yourself.

19. “Me & My Dog” by Julien Baker, Phoebe Bridgers and Lucy Dacus as boygenuis. The three of them released an EP together under the name boygenius and it’s insanely good. They’re all SO GOOD on their own. Together it’s almost more than I can stand as evidenced by “Me & My Dog.”

20. “Broken Headlights” by Roscoe & Etta. Roscoe & Etta is the dynamic duo of singer-songwriters Maia Sharp and Anna Schulze. They made an album together and I love it start to finish. Saw them this summer in Portland, Maine and they were all that. “Broken Headlights” is the album’s first single.

roscoe and etta
Anna Schulze and Maia Sharp of Roscoe & Etta.
Photo by Patrik Giardino

21. “Fireworks” by First Aid Kit. From their “Ruins” album. In a word: SWOON! Also, here’s my interview with Klara Söderberg and my review of their February show in Boston. And most importantly, here’s the dreamy “Fireworks.”

22. “Spark, Set Fire” by The Western Den. They’re the Boston duo of Deni Hlavinka and Chris West and they’re  a very recent discovery for me. If “Spark, Set Fire” is any indication, I have a very good feeling we’re gonna get along just fine.

23. “Don’t Let Go” by Tiny Deaths. The album is called “Magic” and it most certainly is. I listened to it several times through during a road trip a few months ago and love it. Tiny Deaths is the dream-pop duo of vocalist Claire De Lune and producer Grant Cutler. Fun fact, the song “Oceans” was one of my favorite songs of 2016. I’m still obsessed with it.  But let’s focus on the “Magic” album and this effin’ great song “Don’t Let Go.”

24. “The River” by KT Tunstall. Scottish singer-songwriter K.T. Tunstall released her sixth studio album called “Wax” in October. I’m savoring each track, including “The River.”

25. “423” by Roscoe & Etta. I simply HAD to include another one from the Roscoe & Etta album. Love the imagery and Sharp and Schulze’s vocals together.  And the refrain is spectacular, but in your head say another word for spectacular because I use it too much. Behold: “423.”

26. “Venice Bitch” by Lana Del Rey. Truth be told, I only know a handful of Lana Del Rey songs and I love them all. As for this one, you GOTTA love the “fresh out of fucks forever” line.  Also, I LOVE that this song clocks in at just under ten minutes. Dig it.

27. “The Wanderer” by Emilie Mover. Mover, out of Toronto, is another artist on this list that I didn’t know about until about five minutes ago. But I do know that this single, a cover of the early 60’s Dion song “The Wanderer” is swoon-worthy.  I’m confident you’ll agree.

28. “Django” by Janelle Monáe featuring Zoe Kravitz. First of all, and you don’t need me to tell you this, the entire “Dirty Computer” album is an absolute banger. Second of all, the song  gives a shout out to Eve Ensler’s “Vagina Monologues.” So you’re damn right that “Django Jane” is on this list.

29. “Fine With the Dark” by Amy Ray. Ray’s latest solo album is called “Holler” and it’s extraordinary. Any number of songs could have made this list but at the moment I’m all about “Fine With the Dark.”

30. “Fugitive” by Indigo Girls. The song first appeared on their 1994 studio album “Swamp Ophelia” and is in my top five list of favorite songs by the duo of Amy Ray and Emily Saliers. So why is the song on this list? Because a double live album was released earlier this year of Indigo Girls live with The University of Colorado Symphony Orchestra. Here’s my review. Anyway…when I heard the symphony version of “Fugitive” I wept and cheered and pretty much lost my mind.  Just when I thought I couldn’t love a song anymore, Indigo Girls hit me (and the world) with THIS.

31. “Wild One” by I’m With Her. I’m With Her is the trio of Sarah Jarosz, Aoife O’Donovan and Sara Watkins. After a few songs here and there over the past couple of years the debut full-length album “See You Around” was released in February. I chose “Wild One” for this list because it makes me entirely sad and happy and their voices together destroy me.

32. “The Night That Bowie Died” by KT Tunstall. Another track from “Wax.”  I’m still not over losing Bowie and when I saw his name in this song title I steeled myself and put my headphones on. The reward was huge.

33. “Are We Good?” by Eleanor Friedberger. From her 2018 album “Rebound.” I can’t remember when I first heard this song as I scan the past 12 months but listening to it again as I write this I remember why I stuck it on this list. Maybe I got a press release about it? Delivery mechanism doesn’t matter, the song is excellent. Lend an ear.

34. “Neon Prayer Flags” by The Wind and The Wave. From their latest album “Human Beings Let You Down.” All I know is that I can’t get enough of Patty Lynn’s voice. She and musical partner Dwight Baker have a fantastic thing going with this band. Plus, the song talks about therapy so of course I love it.

35. “Some Kind of Window” by Rachael Yamagata. Rachael’s one of my favorite singers on the planet and she surprised us all with the release of a seemingly-out-of-nowhere EP called “Porch Songs” a couple of months ago. There are five songs on it and they all put me into emotional orbit. I chose “Some Kind of Window” because the lines “I don’t know where my will has gone, I never felt so shut down before” are effin’ fantastic and Yamagata sings them in a profound, soul-searing way. Just listen!

36. “Black Monday” by Neneh Cherry. I’ll be honest, I haven’t really kept up with Cherry’s career. I’m lame. Up until this point I pretty much only knew her now 30-year-old hit “Buffalo Stance.” But then one fine I got wind of her latest album “Broken Politics” and I guess I got wind at the exact moment that I actually had time to listen to it. Wow. It’s going to knock your socks entirely off. Her vocals are to die-for. I’m still getting to know the album but “Black Monday” sure as shit made my list.

37. “Follow Me Home” by SHEL. It was love at first listen with the four mesmerizing Holbrook sisters back in 2016. Since then I’ve seen them in a Tennessee cave, at a festival in North Carolina and a festival in Colorado. Their latest project is scoring the new Catherine Zeta-Jones Facebook Watch series “Queen America.” Out of that came the song “Follow Me Home,” released a little over a week ago. I have a heart attack every time a press release arrives with SHEL in the subject line and this was no exception. Listen to the song and fall under the SHEL spell.

38.”Extralife” by Darlingside. Pleased as punch to report that I FINALLY saw them live a week ago and they were dreamy and I was transfixed. I’ve adored Darlingside for a couple of years and the adoration grew all the more with the release of their album “Extralife.” The title track made my list because when I listen to it I leave my body and float up to 60s folk heaven. Here it is.

39.”Hurricanes” by Dido. Cause …want to thank her… for releasing her first album since 2013. Well technically it’s not out quite yet. “Still on My Mind” is set for a March 2019 release BUT the first single “Hurricanes” was shared with the world on the 12th of November and it’s lovely and lush and well heck, just listen.

40. “Right Down the Line” by Lucius. Yes indeed I mean a cover of the 1978 Gerry Rafferty hit. It’s one of ten tracks on the “Nudes” album, released in March. The indie-pop quartet of singers Jess Wolfe and Holly Laessig, guitarist Casey Foubert and drummer John Dion can do no wrong in my book. I got hip to them in 2013 and everything they’ve done since then has been fantastic. I was lucky enough to see them last year with Roger Waters. Holy shit. Anyway, “Nudes” is an acoustic album of new stuff, old stuff and some covers including their marvelous take on “Right Down the Line.”

lucius with lukas
Holly and Jess from Lucius on stage with Lukas Nelson and the Promise of the Real at the Newport Folk Festival. 7.28.18. Photo by Aimsel Ponti

41. “Blue Again” by Weakened Friends. I do sometimes like to rock out. Weakened Friends is the Portland, Maine trio of singer-guitarist Sonia Sturino, bass player Annie Hoffman and drummer Cam Jones.  They just won a Boston Music Award for Alt/Indie artist of the year. YEAH! “Blue Again” is from their tremendous debut full-length album “Common Blah.”

42. “Social Life” by Armies. Because it’s commentary on social media is blistering and spot-on. Also, I’m all about the vocals of Dave Gutter and Anna Lombard. “Social Life” is from the band’s second album “Armies II.” They’re a Maine act but do all sorts of cool stuff all over the place. There’s a video coming at some point for the song that was filmed at the album release show a few months ago (I was there). For now, take a listen to “Social Life.”

43. “Only Lonely” by The Ballroom Thieves. The Ballroom Thieves is the trio of Martin Earley, Devin Mauch and Calin Peters.  OMG I love this band. I even bought a necklace Martin made at a show a couple of years ago. I also love the fact that they now call Maine home. “Only Lonely” will have you at the first chill howl. It’s from their “Paper Crown” EP. Enjoy.


And there you have it.

Ponti out

p.s. Because I love you here’s a Spotify Playlist of all the songs!
https://open.spotify.com/embed/user/eastcoastaimsel/playlist/4AHxy9Dg1VNs9T8dg20PVI


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