“Artist to watch” is an often-used term that may or may not be a good fit for certain performers, especially young ones that still have so many decisions to make about their lives and careers, and have so many determinations to be made about their talent, drive, influences, and style. But when it comes to the 18-year-old singer-songwriter Mary Sarah, “artist-to-watch” might not be a strong enough designation to speak to the potential of this artist.
Born in Oklahoma, raised in Texas, and set on a path from a very young age to become a performer, Mary Sarah spent her adolescence traveling around in showcases for young, potential music stars, and signed to Los Angeles-based talent agencies. From the beginning, Mary Sarah has been groomed for the big time, and you can tell there is money and muscle behind this girl; in fact maybe a little too much money and muscle, where you wonder where the carefully-crafted image and marketing end, and the singing-songwriting 18-year-old girl begin.
Mary Sarah seems to be following the Taylor Swift career path in some respects. If you poke around YouTube and such, you can find a young Mary Sarah singing cover songs from Taylor Swift and other country pop and pop stars. At 14, she released her first album Crazy Good that resides very much in the young singer-songwriter country pop realm. She’s recently been spending a lot of time touring radio stations, which is also a sign of an artist wanting to take the direct, industry route to a country music career.
But this doesn’t tell the whole story of young Mary Sarah. She professes a deep love for traditional country music, and began performing on the local Opry circuit around Houston as she grew older, meeting the Oak Ridge Boys who saw a YouTube video of her singing and invited her on stage at the Galveston’s Grand Opera House in January of 2012. This led to Mary Sarah and her mother eventually moving from Texas to Nashville to work on a very interesting recording project from which a duet with the recently-passed Ray Price was released in tribute to the Country Music Hall of Famer.
Recorded at The Sound Kitchen in Franklin, TN with producer Kent Wells, the unreleased Mary Sarah legends album called Bridges matches up the young singer with an unbelievable roster of legacy country talent recording classic country songs, and not just the obvious names like Dolly Parton and Willie Nelson that appear on the album, but even artists like Lynn Anderson and Freddy Powers, not to mention Merle Haggard, The Oak Ridge Boys, Tanya Tucker, Vince Gill, Ronnie Milsap, Big Kenny, John Rich, and of course, Ray Price. Even more astounding is that Mary Sarah’s executive producer and mentor is Freddy Powers—the songwriting / guitar-playing powerhouse who has penned so many hits for Merle Haggard and Willie Nelson just to name a few. Mary Sarah is not just some industry ingénue, she has some of the best living representatives of traditional country music behind her.
One of the remarkable things about Ray Price is that right up to his passing, his voice was as boisterous and warm as ever, and when you cue up this “Heartaches By The Number” duet with Mary Sarah, you hear Ray Price come alive again with such clarity, with such body to his legendary, vibrato tone, it’s enough to raise hairs and overwhelm. But not to be outdone, Mary Sarah delivers a flawless performance herself that that rises to the level of complimenting Ray Price on this remarkable remake. The production and arrangement breathes new life into the track, while honoring the song’s classic lineage.
Mary Sarah could break either way at this point. She could become like an Amber Digby type and be a traditional country singer from Texas who has a solid, dedicated, sustainable, but smallish following, or she could become the next Taylor Swift. Or, even better, she could potentially bridge these two worlds with her Bridges album, and take traditional country music to a popularity level it hasn’t enjoyed in recent memory.
The reason teenagers and young adults love young pop country stars like Taylor Swift is because they can relate to them. Mary Sarah is an awfully beautiful young woman with all the stage presence, charm, and media savvy a young star needs to reach the very top of the music industry. In fact in some respects it’s all almost so perfect you tend to want to throw some dirt on it, and some may be untrusting of what they’re seeing and hearing because it’s so refined and flawless.
But as for the “Heartaches By The Number” duet, you can’t get much better, and that is coming from one that doesn’t like many remakes or cover songs. And to know there’s an entire album of similar material out there just makes you hungry for more. Mary Sarah’s Bridges album was initially slated for release in the Spring of 2013, and then the summer of 2013, but has yet to surface. It may be the fault of some Music Row bean counters sitting on their hands, or it could be Mary’s team is waiting for the exact right time and opportunity. Some chatter now has the album coming in the spring of 2014. But if Mary Sarah’s duet with Ray Price is any indication, this will be a release well worth the wait, and so will be the arrival of Mary Sarah on the national stage.
Two guns up.