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.”
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.”
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