Even if you don’t recognize her name, you may know Maia Sharp’s music. Over the last quarter-century, the songwriter and performer has released a bunch of solid albums that navigated the middle ground between country, pop, and Americana. But her songs have also been rendered by other artists: Back when “Dixie” was still part of their name, the Chicks covered “A Home” (written by Sharp and her father, longtime country songwriter Randy Sharp), and Cher blasted out “Don’t Come Around Tonite” in 1995.
There’s nothing rootsy or power-ballad-friendly about “Backburner,” from Sharp’s new album, Mercy Rising. Odes to regret and missed opportunities have been part of the pop lexicon since people first began sitting down at pianos to compose parlor songs. But “Backburner” — cowritten with Anna Schulze, an artist in her own right who’s made collaborative records with Sharp under the name Rosco & Etta — adds a grabby lyrical conceit that freshens up the genre.
Whether it’s literal or figurative, “Backburner” finds the narrator trying to repress her feelings for someone over the course of a party, or at least as the world goes on. The stove metaphor for repressed feelings carries through the lyrics: “So you wouldn’t boil over/I’d give a little stir/Maybe take a little taste/Just to make sure.” And to use another analogy, by the end of the song it’s sadly clear that the window of romantic opportunity has been slammed shut: “I had a dream that you waited for me/But like a lot of dreams go/I woke up in the ash of the afterglow.”
“Backburner” is one clever lyric, but the beauty of the song is that it isn’t cloying or cutesy. The arrangement, which features Sharp’s guitars and synths along with other musicians, is steady and unswerving, like on the cruise-control mode in your car. From Sharp’s contemplative delivery to the tautness of the arrangement, “Backburner” conveys regret without ever sounding maudlin. To extend its metaphor, it stays on simmer and never overheats.
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