Mehuman. Photo by Nicole Wolf

Mehuman Ernst is a Westbrook-based singer with a powerful voice and equally powerful message expressed in her brand-new album “Beautiful Ashes.” Released under her first name (pronounced “May-mon”), its official release date is New Year’s Day but you can purchase it digitally now at mehumanmusic.com.

Is it too soon to declare this will be one of my favorite local albums of 2022? Nope. It’s that good, and I’ll state my case in a moment. But first, some backstory.

Mehuman is originally from Meadville, Pennsylvania, where zippers were invented. She moved to Maine in 2008 from Santa Monica, California. Prior to that, she lived in Las Vegas, New York City and Detroit. She also had several long stays in Hungary, France and Ireland. Maine is where she’s lived the longest.

She grew up listening to gospel, jazz, classic rock, country, folk, blues, classical and anything else her seven older siblings exposed her to. “I have always been drawn to lyrics and melodies and warm, deep singing voices, so I listen to anything from Nina Simone to Iggy Pop,” she told me. Mehuman also is a fan of Lauren Daigle, Bella Taylor Smith, Foo Fighters, Mavis Staples, Leonard Cohen, Tom Waits, U2, Allison Russell and Ruthie Foster, among other artists.

Mehuman also told me earlier this year that she was raised learning musical instruments as a means of worshiping God and celebrating life and death and that hearing her parents playing music informed her relationship with it.

Mehuman has been writing music and performing on stages since she was 5 years old, the age she penned the song “Let’s Be Friends, First.”

“I didn’t know what I was talking about, but I loved the way the words flowed and my kindergarten teacher Dr. Onglie was impressed,” she said. Hooray for Dr. Onglie, a case study in the power of positive reinforcement.

Mehuman started singing in her early 20s.

Now about that album …

Considering how much “Beautiful Ashes” overflows with hope and redemption, Mehuman couldn’t have picked a better release day. Mehuman’s raise-the-roof voice sometimes calls to mind Tina Turner. She’s able to punctuate every emotion on the spectrum with her vocal cords, and on songs like “Heavyweight,” I found myself cheering her on.

During “Black & Blue,” the groove was so strong it was a challenge to stay at my desk while it was blasting in my ears. The song’s subject matter is rife with prison, guns and sirens and a refrain, “My man’s in black and I’m in blue.” The song also says that “love ain’t no damn good” while drums clap down like thunder and Mehuman howls her plea. Then it turns on a dime and downshifts with strings, coming to a soft, resolved ending. I didn’t know if I wanted to shout “Hallelujah!” or “Hell yes!” but one thing’s for sure, I listened to the song three times in a row.

“Beautiful Ashes” album cover. Photo by Nicole Wolf, Layout by Rowan Bishop at Bridge Street Design 

Another standout track is “Highwire.” This song alone makes the album worth buying. Sometimes a song is so good, you can’t even find the words to describe it because it’s more about a feeling than adjectives. This is one of those songs. I suggest firing up YouTube and listening right now.

All told, “Beautiful Ashes” has a dozen songs on it that I’ve befriended over the past couple of weeks. The album was produced by Darren Elder at The Halo studio, recorded and mixed by Kevin Billingslea, and mastered by Adam Ayan at Gateway Mastering. The songs pull on many genre threads: folk, rock, jazz and gospel. Mehuman wrote all the songs and sings lead on them. Billingslea is on guitars and bass, Jacob Wertman plays drums, Elder is on drums and percussion, Kevin Oates is on strings and Amy Gauthier on backing vocals.

The album title, “Beautiful Ashes,” was inspired by the Japanese concept of Wabi-sabi which Wikipedia explains is about appreciating beauty that is “imperfect, impermanent and incomplete” in nature.

I asked Mehuman to distill what the album means to her in just a sentence or two. Here’s what she told me: “My life has always been like a phoenix on fire, fraught with peaks of joy and valleys of unresolved trauma. Whether set by others or myself, that ‘fire’ is my muse, this music is the beauty I found in its ashes, and it was worth the burning.”

Head to mehumanmusic.com to purchase a digital copy of “Beautiful Ashes” as well as her two previous releases. The album will be on Spotify and other streaming platforms on Saturday.


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