Thursday, July 9, 2009

Melodious Maia Sharp

Presently I'm filled with the enthusiasm that only an outstanding concert can bring. Maia Sharp, who is touring currently to promote Echo, her latest CD, gave a performance at Club Passim won't be forgotten. It was an awesome display of musical skill on so many levels.

Let's start with the songwriting. Most of Maia's songs follow a classic structure: verse to chorus to verse and then back again. She constructs choruses with words and harmonies that seize your attention. As you sing along, you're admiring her unique turn of phrase. Here are a few examples.

from "Willing to Burn"

Now we're living in a tinderbox
hosing down the roof
It's raging all around us
and we still refuse to move
There's a lesson we're desperate to learn
and we're willing to burn

from "The Reminder"

Get ready for the riot act
you so deserve to hear
you made lies of all your promises
then you disappeared
you took a heart so innocent
shattered it like glass
then you had the nerve to think
that you could leave that in your past
when you forget I'll be there every time
I'm the reminder

Maia is a terrific and supremely confident singer. You hear every word she delivers and, because she's so often telling the story about some romantic travail, you are captive. Her sound displays many colors. Mostly it's a country-rock feel, but you can detect a strong blues and jazz undercurrent. It's rhythmic and inventive. Last night she was accompanied by another guitarist and truthfully, that was all that was necessary to do justice to her work.

For the most part, Maia Sharp co-writes her songs. Prominent co-writers you might recognize are Kim Richey, David Batteau, and her father, Randy Sharp. It seems now, after 4 albums in over the last dozen or so years, that she's destined not to become a star, but to provide the music for the stars. It's become the Sharp family tradition.

Why she is not a star herself is completely beyond me. From her first release, Maia Sharp has been completely in charge and developed as a performer. If it were the early 1970s, there's little doubt that she would have shot into prominence along with Bonnie Raitt (who Maia has opened for, and who recorded three Sharp songs--"Crooked Crown", "I Don't Want Anything to Change", and "The Bed I Made"-- on her last release, 2005's Souls Alike).

I love listening for the "hooks" in Maia's songs. I don't play the guitar, but I can hear inventive chord changes, and she knows just where to put them in to distinguish one song from another. All her music has a dramatic structure that's backed up sonically. I love how she always returns to the chorus, and it's always sung with great feeling.

Her voice is very full and robust. She never seems to strain for a note. She's quite funny on stage, and spontaneous. Her intelligence shines like a beacon, as well as her authenticity. She is dynamic.

I was anxious for her in terms of how many people would show for her gig. I mean, it was the first stop of her tour, and she had flown across the country for it. Fortunately the club was about three-quarters full. Their applause was robust, and she left feeling as if she'd gotten off to a great start.

I'll leave you now with some choice cuts from YouTube.

from Echo: "Polite Society"; "John Q. Lonely"

from the Dixie Chicks: "A Home"

Interview with Maia on "All Things Considered"

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