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Aimsel Ponti

Aimsel Ponti is a Content Producer at MaineToday.com and a music writer for MaineToday.com and the Portland Press Herald. She has been obsessed with - and inspired by - music since she listened to Monkees records borrowed from the town library when she was six years old. She bought her first Rolling Stones record at a flea market when she was in 7th grade and discovered David Bowie a year later. She's a HUGE fan of the local music scene and covers it along with national musical happenings in her "Face the Music" column and with artist interviews that appear in print in the Portland Press Herald and online at Mainetoday.com. You'll also find her out and about absorbing live music like a sponge and roaming around local record shops and flea markets. Aimsel is also the host of Music from 207 on 98.9 WCLZ and appears monthly on the WCHS TV show “207” to talk about...music of course.

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Posted: August 31, 2018

Roscoe & Etta: the guitars, the album, the duo

Written by: Aimsel Ponti

Roscoe (left) and Etta (right)
Photo by Patrik Giardino

Roscoe is an old acoustic guitar, and Etta is an old electric one. Roscoe belongs to Maia Sharp and Etta to Anna Schulze. The instruments inspired both a band and album name for the duo of Los Angeles-based musicians.

“Roscoe & Etta” comes out on Friday, and it’s fresh, smart and bursting with terrific vocals from both artists, not to mention impressive licks on both guitars. The duo is taking to the road, and their tour kicks off with a mid-week show at One Longfellow Square on Wednesday night.

Schulze is a new artist to me. She’s a singer-songwriter, guitarist and producer originally from Minneapolis with music that walks the line between indie and pop. Her arrangement of the traditional song “A La Claire Fontaine” was featured in the Oscar-winning documentary “Icarus.” In 2016, she released the album “Pickford Market.”

Anna Schulze (left) and Maia Sharp (right) of Roscoe & Etta
Photo by Patrik Giardino

I’ve been a fan of Maia Sharp’s for many years. Her songs have been recorded by Bonnie Raitt, Cher and The Dixie Chicks, among several other big names, and she’s released seven studio albums since 1997. She plays guitar,  sax and keys all incredibly well. Both she and Schulze have sometimes honeyed and sometimes big, bursting voices and thankfully, because of a chance introduction, they quickly realized they were destined to make an album together.

“We met at our mutual friend Garrison Starr’s show in L.A. about a year and a half ago and made a co-write date based on Garrison’s good review of both of us,” Sharp said during a recent interview. “From our first song, ‘Play On,’ I knew we were bringing something different out of each other, something neither of us were doing on our own.”

Turns out, “Play On” is the first song on the album, and it’s a dreamy tune with the lines: “I am redeemed in the sweetest dream of marmalade skies/And faithfully lost inside your lyin’ eyes/Black or white, cold as ice, the thrill is never gone … play on.” Whisps of electric guitar licks and a steady strum of acoustic carry the song down a slow and steady path of moody pop perfection.

Sharp said that when they finished their second song, “Somebody,” the conversation turned to where to go next and options considered were solo albums, pitches to other artists or attempts at song placements in film and TV. But then it hit them. “The only answer that felt right was that we were the artist. So we dug in and wrote twice a week with our own project in mind,” she said, adding that the project brought with it a whole other level of inspiration ,and that it’s been fun to be the lead singer on one song and the background on the next.

There is one exception to the collaborative element of the album, and that’s the first single “Broken Headlights.” Sharp wrote this one a decade ago with a musician named Joey Ryan (of the Milk Carton Kids) who recorded it on his EP “Kenter Canyon,” and he is joined on the song by Sara Bareilles. The Roscoe & Etta version features Sharp on lead vocals, and lyrically it’s a meditation on the uncertain future of a relationship. The song also has a real sense of place to it with references to the canyons, highways and even air of Los Angeles.

Here’s “Broken Headlights”:

One of my current favorites on the album is a track called “423,” and I asked Sharp to tell me about it. “We set out to write more specific images: the room number … the 4 a.m. wake-ups that we’re all too familiar with.” The mid-tempo tune shines with a vocally resplendent refrain: “You’ve got all the right reasons to get yourself free/But being right is not your kind of freedom, you’d rather be in this hotel room with me.” There’s also some well-placed synth lines in the song and shooting stars of electric guitar. This is my pick for the next single. Sharp also said that three particular artists came to mind when “423” was coming together. “I think that one was especially influenced by three of our favorites: Liz Phair, Phoebe Bridgers and Courtney Barnett,” she said.

Sharp and Schulze produced and played everything on the album, save for some guest performances by Joshua Grange (Sheryl Crow) on steel guitar, Vanessa Freebairn-Smith (Jeff Beck) on cello, David Ryan Harris (John Mayer) on electric guitar, Devon Eisenbarger (Katy Perry) on electric guitar and Fritz Lewak (Jackson Browne) on drums. If that’s not an impressive Rolodex of players, I don’t know what is.

At the Portland show, Sharp and Schulze will be playing as a duo with Schulze on electric and acoustic guitar and Sharp on acoustic guitar . Sharp mentioned that they’ve also been experimenting with some live loops and that will likely be an element of the show.

Take a listen to “You Already Know,” another track from the album.

In naming both the band and the album, Sharp said that the decision essentially made itself. “Roscoe and Etta are the guitars we used to write a lot of the songs, and they are both so honest and irreverent, we didn’t fight that.”

Roscoe & Etta

When: 8 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 12.
Where: One Longfellow Square, 181 State St., Portland
How Much: $20 in advance, $25 day of show. onelongfellowsquare.com

 

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