t’s hard to say if it feels like yesterday or a hundred years ago that I first heard Maia Sharp‘s song “Brownstone” on the now defunct San Diego station KUPR. From her debut album “Hardly Glamour“, that ambiguous familiarity is inherent to the album itself; every track sounds like I’ve heard it before. Maia’s voice, deeper than most female singers you hear on pop radio, is warm and reassuring. Her songwriting and musicianship exude the same warmth and professionalism, making for one of the most enjoyable albums I’ve discovered in years. I’m not sure why it’s taken me five years to track it down, and now that I have, I regret the pretermission. I’ll make up for it by being particularly verbose in today’s review.
If you’d like to read all about Maia’s famous songwriter father, or her struggles with the never-released album “Tinderbox”, I’m sure you can find all the details elsewhere. I’m only going to talk about her music.
- “I Need This To Be Love” — ‘You said, “I’m going to California” so I was going to California, too.’ Leaving everything she knows behind, our heroine surrenders to the fantasy that love is a good enough reason for the madness of a cross-country crime spree. Co-writer Mark Addison and Daris Adkins keep adding layer upon layer of sliding, shimmering guitars, building this country-tinged number to a big round conclusion, even though the lyrics never really tell us whether it was love or not. Nice upbeat track in spite of it.
- “Good Thing” — After the simplicity of the opening track, it takes more than one listen to absorb the more complex rhythym of this sad song’s chorus.
To live without your touch Could never feel too much Like a good thing
Despite dad Randy’s mandolin and acoustic guitar, this doesn’t sound like a country or folk tune. Maia’s voice and the arrangement of the mandolin solo combine with the time signature to lend a very jazzy feeling. And that’s a good thing. Co-written with Randy Sharp.
- “The Apology” — Maia plays a number of keyboards and the tenor sax on this edgy/funky jazz tune. The keyboard solo doesn’t come to a tidy conclusion; everything just seems to dwindle to a near silence, making way for the next verse. Very nicely done, and not at all your typical pop schmaltz. It’s becoming clear we’re listening to a composer, not just a singer. The next track nails that down pretty securely.
- “Brownstone” — A simple acoustic bass and guitar opening, with vocals to a completely different beat. Too many words for each line. Fuzzy, almost angry guitar over the gently vocals of the chorus. Suddenly, it’s raining, and a couple soprano saxes are dueling with a pair of electric guitars, but the prodominant sound is co-writer Janet Robin’s acoustic guitar, carrying the melody. Challenging, fascinating, complex, beautiful; this one track is worth the price of the entire album. A spectacular recording, showcasing Sharp’s mature writing and singing.
- “Broken” — Another upbeat song about betrayal and unhappy love. It’s hard to empathize too much with the tragic lyrics when they’re surrounded by all those perky guitars doing their best George Harrison imitation. Another partnering with Janet Robin, who plays multiple guitars. Not quite country, but headed that way.
- “Only Way Of Knowing” — A patient song about the freshness of first love. Co-writer/dad Randy provides some really stes/m backing vocals which make his new album “Connections” sound like a good bet.
- “Don’t Come Around Tonight” — Opening like a Steven Bishop ballad, “Don’t Come Around” turns into the kind of rocker Jimmy Buffet might do if he had the notion. A good solid rhythmic piece which should have become a big hit.
Don't come around here tonight But that doesn't mean forever
In the old days of two-sided vinyl albums, this was the kind of rousing tune artists loved to have leading off side two.
- “Solitaire” — Tr