Los Angeles-based singer/songwriter Ken Sharp is an intensely passionate and knowledgeable student and purveyor of rock music. When he’s not creating his own, he’s writing about it. Sharp is a New York Times best-selling writer who has authored or co-authored over eighteen music books (including the absolutely essential Starting Over: The Making of John Lennon and Yoko Ono’s Double Fantasy), has contributed to a variety of national music magazines, has worked on music documentaries, and has written liner notes for releases by all-time luminaries such as Elvis Presley, Sly & the Family Stone, Janis Joplin, Small Faces, Santana, Cheap Trick, , KISS, Hall & Oates, Rick Springfield, the Guess Who, Jellyfish, and Jefferson Airplane, among others. Chances are that if you have a fairly decent CD collection, you have some of Ken Sharp’s writing in small type-face across the pages of your CD booklet.
New Mourning, Ken Sharp’s first new studio album in nine years, is a deceptively sunny 14-track song cycle that contemplates the beauty and endurance of the human spirit in the face of crushing emotional darkness, loss, and regret. Produced by Sharp with Fernando Perdomo (Todd Rundgren/Jakob Dylan), this, his fourth album (following the widely acclaimed Sonic Crayons), veers from edgy hard-rocking melodic power-pop like “Dynamite and Kerosene”, “Burn & Crash”, and “Bad News” to deeply personal ballads of delicate fragility like “1000 Guitars” and “Haunts Me”. Sharp exposes his innermost tumultuous emotions on this collection, but that doesn’t mean it’s a depressing listen. In fact, one might see it as a celebration of the beauty of the heartbreak, an homage to the power of romantic pain delivered with a rueful wink. It’s as if his overarching message is “Yeah, you got me, you bastard. I may be a wallowing in emotional wreckage, but dammit if i’m not going to make the best of it”. And that he does.
Sharp enlists some heavy-hitting guests, including Australian ‘80s heartthrob and electrifying frontman Rick Springfield (on “Burn & Crash” and “Satellite”), guitarist Wally Stocker of the Babys (which featured John Waite of “Missing You” fame), bassist Prescott Niles of the Knack (whose hit “My Sharona” is perhaps the preeminent power-pop single of all time), and other industry vets. The core group of musicians is producer Fernando Perdomo, Rob Bonfiglio (known for his work with Wilson Phillips, Wanderlust, and Ritchie Rubini of the Caulfields). Perdomo coaxes a full-throttle, massive sounding wall of sound performance from his collaborators, giving Sharp a dense and powerful musical backdrop for his lovelorn lyrics and melodies. Fittingly, Sharp’s voice is unique, closing in on the high end of the register but never quite getting there; it’s strange at first but becomes endearing very quickly.
Of course, one could quibble about a few minor points. There are some issues with the mixing—for instance, Sharp’s lead vocals are too low in the mix, while the lovely harmony vocals are too prominent (particularly on “Solid Ground”, where they become a distraction that overtakes Sharp’s performance). The electric guitar licks on “Solid Ground” are also way too high. That said, any minor problems are more than overcome by the strength of the performances and, in particular, the passion and genuine feeling in Sharp’s vocals. Particularly moving is the spectacular self-deprecating finale “Loser”, a song that launches into full progressive rock grandeur while dripping with self-pity that seems either genuine or sardonic. New Mourning is obviously a catharsis, an inversion of pain and heartbreak into a blossom of creativity and loveliness that is exactly what its genius pun of a title indicates. Soon enough, that “u” will be long gone; after all, that’s the way of human emotion. Well, usually.