Mercury Rising - Album Review by Sleeping Bag Studios
I’ll tell you this much, when you’re shipped over four songs from a brand-new album coming out and three of those tunes have already been released as advance singles – and they ALL come from the first four tracks in the lineup…I mean…you gotta assume there’s some pretty strong stuff coming out on Joan Mercury’s debut album Mercury Rising just by sight alone before you even have a chance to push play!
Considering the record drops online officially tomorrow, I think we can all agree that three out of the first four songs being singles is at the very least, an incredible average already – and clearly Joan’s still just gettin’ started. I ain’t gonna lie to ya – I’ve snuck in a listen or two to the full album already…and she’s got a verifiable set of tunes that could pretty much all take a stab at becoming the next single. With her soulful approach to R&B/Pop and charming, talented vocals, she’s got a great take on the Adult Contemporary style that’ll appeal to many sets of ears out there looking for something smooth to slide onto their playlists this year. Joan reminds me a lot of Lisa Stansfield in many ways, which is aces in my books, but it should also give you an idea of the mix of jazzy elements in the music and soul-filled vocals you’ll find in songs that have undeniable hooks & plenty of grooves for your hearts & minds to get into.
Listening to the opening track “Never Enough,” to me, you can hear that influence of the early 90’s on Joan’s music…artists like the aforementioned Stansfield or Janet Jackson…likely a little En Vogue in her CD tower at one point as well I’m guessing. Definitely nothing wrong with that…each one of those acts/artists were ruling the airwaves at the top of their game – and while the modernization of the sound over time has seen the genre struggle to claim its airtime over the past couple decades, the audience remains abundant online and looking for a new champion to restore its former glory. The uplifting/empowering vibe that you get in the confident performance that Joan puts into her vocals is a great contrast with the theme of the lyrics on “Never Enough.” Highly relatable – I’d imagine many of you out there will understand where she’s coming from in having been told or feeling like she’s “Never Enough” throughout the years…whether it’s the people we fall in love with, our family, or the places we work – we can all run into that feeling at some point in time. What I really love about this first single & song from Joan’s record – is that you can HEAR in her vocals alone that she’s MORE than enough – and likely, she always has been. We all get pushed until we’re ready to break in life…and at some pivotal moment along the way, we eventually snap or find the freedom we’re seeking out – and though she details many of the struggles & obstacles she’s faced throughout her own journey on “Never Enough” – from the amount of swagger, style, confidence, and skills she displays in the bold tones of her rhythmic vocals, it’s also clear that she’s discovered the artist she’s always been meant to be and embracing her time in the spotlight like she owns it. Joan’s got a great stomping beat fueling the energy of the music, excellent guitars in the mix as well that really accent the melody perfectly, and overall, it’s a solid first impression without a doubt…you can audibly hear that she’s stronger than ever from having gone through everything she’s been through…she’s on the other side of it all now y’all – Mercury Rising 100%.
“You’re not a lifetime partner, you’re a lifetime lesson.” Come on now people – that’s a fantastic line. The second tune “Proceed With Caution” is filled with warning shots on what can happen in the pursuit of life & love. I’ll say this…I think the difference between the impact of the verse & chorus on this cut is pretty widespread by comparison to the balance between the main parts of “Never Enough” – but that being said, I think the main hooks of the chorus on “Proceed With Caution” are likely the strongest of the first two songs on Mercury Rising. Don’t get me wrong, I like the subtle approach to the verses of this second song, but it’s hard to deny that at its most vibrant, colorful, and involved, that “Proceed With Caution” heads right to that next-level it deserves. Mercury is magic in the hooks here, straight-up – and honestly I love that about the entire genre of Adult Contemporary overall…the star really needs to remain the star for that style of music to work well, and you can tell this fine lady has what it takes to make the impact on listeners out there when it comes to all that. No matter which part of the song you’re listening to or how well-executed the music surrounding her ever seems to be, it’s Joan that you can’t take your ears off of – and I felt like she realized the full potential of what the hooks in this song could truly become without question. There’s a slight risk here single-wise with the stripped-down sound of the verses, but there’s no way that anyone out there wouldn’t feel the vibe when it comes to the chorus of this song. I’d imagine that when it comes to the masses out there, they’ll be willing to chill with Joan as she sings the verses of “Proceed With Caution” every time as long as it means they get a chorus or two from her on this track just around the corner; those hooks are as sharp as smooth can get and designed to hit the mark spot-on – and thanks to Joan, every one of them are bang-on target.
Speaking of hooks – you’ll find plenty of’em on “Purpose,” which would be the latest of the singles in advance of the record, as well as quite likely my favorite in this set of songs. Loved the atmosphere & vibe of the music, and I think Joan puts in a stunning performance here. She’ll start this out subtly with the hooks and continue to make them bolder as the song plays on, but also comes out completely captivating in the moments surrounding the main parts of “Purpose” as well. She handles this tune with magnificent technique, tons of passion, and graceful-but-bold melody that resonates. I like the versatility you’ll find here lyrically too – this could very well be her singing directly to the souls of each and every one of you, aimed to inspire – OR…it might just be her inner-dialogue and personal anthem. Or maybe it’s both! Bottom line is, as a listener, we feel that inspiring sound on “Purpose” – it speaks to you. Joan’s got an encouraging & inviting approach to the vocals & lyrics here that continues to expand beautifully through her expression and take this song into wonderfully confident terrain. The empowering & uplifting spirit on “Purpose” is truly well executed…I think the breakdowns are exceptional and really serve the song well when it surges back into the main vocal hooks. Mercury gets to the heart of the meaning in these words and draws our attention to the incredible sincerity that she brings to her vocals; essentially everything is great on paper, but it takes a singer like Joan to match the melody to the sentiment, intentions, and ambitions of “Purpose” – she nails this one. I honestly think my favorite part of this song is right around the 2:30 mark, even with everything else being so on-point around that moment…hearing her voice ring out into the atmosphere at this spot is a breathtaking highlight…a short & sweet moment that reveals just how Mercury can captivate with her voice alone. It’s an excellent moment in the song for sure, but don’t get me wrong, everything about “Purpose” is addictive from the subtle sounds of the music to the superstar on the microphone delivering the hooks.
I dig that “Distractions” heads into a bit mo’ Funk for ya – you gotta love the bass & synth combo that fuels the music of this fourth cut on Mercury Rising – that’s classic. Much like where we began, this track to me highlights the roots of her influences and those that have paved the way for her to exist today in music, and at the same time, shows a genuine respect and care for that style & sound through her performance and commitment. “Distractions” is a bit more playful with the vibe, highly enticing as ever, flashier than the rest of the cuts on the record so far, and still offers several layers of depth through the vocals & lyrics that come with the upbeat sound. What continually makes Joan exceptional to listen to is the fact that she’s gone after each and every one of these songs with full focus & dedication – she sounds like an artist that’s really ready for that next step in her career – considering this is her debut album, that’s pretty remarkable ground to be standing on already, but those are the facts. Besides…if you read about her in Joan’s bio & social-media etc., you’ll read that she’s a born entertainer…it’s taken a few years to get to this point she’s at now, but it’s the fact that she’s experienced these “Distractions” along the way that have created the powerful artist she’s become today. All-in-all, I’d imagine the adventure has certainly been worth it if this is the sound of the end result…she puts a ton of heart into the microphone and the mix of confidence, sincerity, and genuine passion always come through perfectly…the sound of an artist truly embracing their moment in time. “Distractions” could very well become the next single – and like I said, having heard the full album, believe me, Joan could keep on releasing these songs in sequence and have no problems picking up a lot of love, support, and listens from the people out there…the lineup runs deep with songs that show her versatile & dynamic energy in all sorts of beautifully expressive ways.