In a way, Edwin McCain began sowing the seeds of Mercy Bound, his tenth album and debut for 429 Records, seven years ago. The songs comprising Mercy Bound are the fruits of an on-again, off-again collaboration with fellow singer/songwriter Maia Sharp that began in 2004 with their lovely duet "Say Anything." Since co-writing and tracking that song, McCain and Sharp have kept up their friendship and creative partnership. They decided to make Mercy Bound their first full-album collaboration.
And that collaboration has offered McCain, some 20 years into his career, a chance to try something new—not only with someone who's worked with everyone from the Dixie Chicks to Art Garfunkel, but also someone who had an eerie habit of being able to get deep inside his head, he says with a laugh.
"As we were making this album, we wrote together exclusively on a bunch of the tracks, and then she threw me a few songs she wrote herself. A lot of the time, when you go from a female to a male voice, it doesn't really work, but for me, it was almost like she was watching me on closed circuit TV. She would play me a song and it was like, 'Quit watching me! You're freaking me out!'" Along the way, some of those songs, like "Sober," changed entirely, when performed by McCain. "That was a song Maia wrote [with Adrianne Gonzalez] after a conversation with a friend, who asked her why she was being so grouchy. She said, 'Sorry, I'm a little sober,' which inspired the chorus of the song. For me—and for a lot of other people further down that road—that line took on a pretty powerful meaning."
Like such McCain signature songs as "3 a.m." and "I'll Be," the horn- and Rhodes piano-tinged tracks comprising the Sharp-produced Mercy Bound are classic Edwin. They're story songs about lovesick romantics or truth seekers stumbling around life trying to make sense of all their good luck, or of situations gone awry; pop-tinged sing-alongs written on acoustic guitars jammed with percolating hooks.
Mercy Bound also marks two decades since McCain first entered a studio. Raised in Greenville, S.C., on a musical diet of everything from Earth, Wind & Fire to David Wilcox, he recorded his first independent demo in 1991, issuing his debut, Solitude, two years later. That album led to his 1995 major-label debut, Honor Among Thieves, which introduced America to the then-budding Southeastern bar favorite. Songs like "Solitude" and "3 a.m." remain fan faves and live staples. Two years later, he broke into the mainstream with the sweeping ballad "I'll Be," from the album Misguided Roses.