The deep New England town of West Hartford, Connecticut is not known for its kinship with Nashville, but thanks to her father, Joanna Mosca heard plenty of country music while growing up there, and she fell in love. "I was definitely the only girl on the block listening to Patsy Cline," Mosca admits with a laugh.
It wasn't until the death of her father that she realized that the health-care career she had pursued so diligently, first as an intensive-care nurse, then as a hospital administrator, wasn't fulfilling her dreams. Neither was acting, though she'd authored and appeared off-Broadway in three acclaimed one-woman shows.
Maybe she knew it subliminally when she formed her first band at 13, but Mosca eventually realized her true passion was singing, and when she began to write and perform her own songs, this wife and mother of two finally found her calling. With her new EP, Have A Little Mercy, Mosca reinforces what fans of her earlier releases have known for some time: This sassy lady may live in New York, but she's got the soul of a country singer — with enough pop shine and rock edge to engage music-lovers of many persuasions.
She's already managed to engage some of the industry's top talents. Her latest work is produced by the New Voice Entertainment team which consists of Rich Redmond, Kurt Allison, Tully Kennedy and David Fanning. Those first three are also members of country star Jason Aldean's band; and play on the EP, including the track, "He Ain't You," written by Jim McCormick, Bill McDermott and Houston Davies. Songwriter McCormick also co-wrote Aldean's No. 1 hit "Take A Little Ride," though Mosca met him through his old college pal, who happens to be her next-door neighbor in New York.
Have A Little Mercy doesn't include any Mosca-penned compositions, but she's certainly earned her share of recognition since following a voice coach's suggestion to turn her attention from scripts to songs. Composing on the piano as she has since childhood (her mother had hoped to raise a prodigy), Mosca has turned out tunes that notched on several charts, including top 10s on radio monitor FMQB.com's adult-contemporary airplay chart. A co-write, "Keep on Going," broke Billboard's top 30 and crossed over to country.
"That got me down to Nashville, where I started making the rounds and going to publishers," Mosca says. "I saw that my songs made sense there and I wanted to learn more, because really, my heart is there anyway. I love lyrics and I love storytelling in a song."
She met other writers, played the Bluebird Café and sought advice from every worthy source she could. That led to her self-titled album, which drew more attention and helped her hook up with Grammy-winning hit maker Bryan White. White wound up producing Mosca's 2012 EP, Let It All Begin. That one features her hot duet with Richie McDonald of Lonestar on the track "Where Does Love Go?" It also contains the anti-bullying, self-empowerment anthem, "Dream On Savannah," which is included on her new release as an embedded video — parts of which were filmed at the Franklin Theatre, a restored deco-era landmark outside of Nashville.
"I decided to put it on my new EP because I've gotten a lot of great feedback, letters and emails from teenage girls, and I just got a note a few months ago from a man whose son had just committed suicide at 15 years old. He asked me to help him spread the word about the foundation he's starting," Mosca explains. The issue particularly resonates because one of her sons is gay.
"There's still a lot of fear and hatred toward people who are different," she says. "Having a gay son makes me much more aware of bullying, the hatred, and intolerance in this world of ours, so 'Dream on Savannah' is important to me."
Calling the track "lilting, uplifting and utterly delightful," Music Row's Robert K. Oermann gave Mosca and "Dream On Savannah" his DisCovery Award. Have A Little Mercy is already drawing other praise as well; Digital Journal has placed Mosca on its "Top 10 Female Country Singers to Watch in 2014" list, and Examiner.com's column, Nashville Country Music Examiner named Mosca among the "Top 5 Female Country Newcomers" of 2014. Similar accolades came for Let It All Begin, including recognition on CMA Close Up magazine's 2012 "Who New to Watch" list and a showcase spot at the 2013 CMA Music Festival. Mosca also has opened for LeAnn Rimes, Martin Sexton and other well-known artists.
Mosca loves having opportunities to share her music with others just as much as she loves writing lyrics that draw responses — or giving life to other people's work. "It's really about the best song," she says. "If I can relate to the song and think I can sing it and do it justice, that's all I need."
Though she doesn't intentionally seek themes for her collections, she says they tend to emerge. Let It All Begin contained songs of encouragement. This one "seems to have turned out to be more about strong women with a sense of humor about love and a little bit of experience."
The ladies on this EP "don't want to put up with any baloney." (Perhaps they take after her paternal grandmother, a Prohibition-era speakeasy singer). And when they find themselves falling in love — again — they know pitfalls line the road. "Here we go," Mosca says, "have some mercy on me."
Even the protagonist of "He Ain't You," so attracted to the bad boy, eventually figures out there's a lot to be said for the nice guy, Mosca notes. "That woman realizes, 'Hey, I'm worth more than this.'" Luckily for Mosca, her husband is more than just a nice guy. He completely supported her decision to pull a 180-degree career switch — a reinvention so radical, it might be worthy of a book. Or a one-woman show. Perhaps she'll write one or the other someday. But right now, she's too busy creating new chapters, and turning them into songs.