Maia Sharp has released several albums during her time in Los Angeles, but has been better known as a “songwriters’ songwriter,” penning tunes for the likes of The Chicks, Lisa Loeb and Trisha Yearwood. After moving to Nashville, Sharp looked up guitarist Joshua Grange to record the tracks at his Resistor Studio, and Ryan Hewitt mixed the resulting album.
Sharp collaborated with a host of songwriters to come up with a dozen original tunes. The resulting Mercy Rising (Crooked Crown Records) is a classic among songwriter albums.
Sharp’s delivery has the husky, frank, not-gonna-lie quality found in Canadian songwriters Kathleen Edwards and Sarah Harmer. Grange’s mixing brings Sharp’s voice to the fore so the listener can’t push the music into the background. The lyrics in tracks like “Backburner” and “Not Your Friend” more than live up to what the music demands. In fact, as one stunning song follows another, it’s hard to identify a single weak track on the album.
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Dinosaur Jr., Sweep It Into Space (Jagjaguwar) – The majority of fans of 1990s-era Dinosaur Jr. probably came for the overweening fuzz guitar of founder J. Mascis, though it’s safe to say many put just as much emphasis on the nasal and somewhat whiny vocals of Lou Barlow. Barlow ended up cutting a broader 21st-century figure in bands such as Sebadoh and Folk Implosion. The first new Dinosaur Jr. album in five years has producer Kurt Vile emphasizing vocals and melodies over guitar feedback. Mascis fans shouldn’t fear, as tracks like “To Be Waiting” offer plenty of feedback, but Barlow takes center stage in enough tunes to make the album feel like a Sebadoh/Dinosaur Jr. hybrid.
Flock of Dimes, Head of Roses (Sub Pop) – Jenn Wasner’s Baltimore duo Wye Oak once featured guitar-driven mysticism, but shifted to a softer synth-dominated sound. Flock of Dimes is her solo project, and she gives us hints of the styles of past and present Wye Oak (a still-active duo with percussionist Andy Stack). For her second solo album with the Dimes moniker, Wasner worked with Nick Sanborn of Sylvan Esso to develop a transcendent sound to match the emotional lyrics of songs like “Price of Blue” and “Walking.”