Echo – Maia Sharp
Ive sat here at the keyboard for a while trying to come up with something other than the word smart to describe Maia Sharps writing. Smart probably gets used too much in reviews of her work although deservedly so.
In the case of her latest album, Echo, phrases like catchy melodies, chock full of hooks, and choruses that youll be singing along with by the second play all seem appropriate but so does smart, dammit. So, live with it: Maia Sharp writes smart songs, my friends. Smart songs that are heavier than your average pop, but are still tremendously easy to lug around in your head. Trying to ditch some of those catchy sing-along choruses is the biggest problem youre likely to have with Echo.
If T Bone Burnett is todays go-to guy for big-time productions, then Echo producer Don Was is the master of nailing the couldnt-be-any-more-intimate-unless-they-were-sitting-on-the-couch sound. As he did with Todd Sniders recently-released The Excitement Plan, Was gives this collection of songs room to breathe and be real, with the kind of warm and comfy production touches that you dont drop-jaw marvel over you just like what youre hearing. (Was straps on the bass for a number of cuts on Echo, as well. You want a killer rhythm section? Put Was in the engine room alongside veteran drummer Jim Keltner and see what happens. Echos the proof.)
But those songs, those songs Polite Society leads things off, charging out of the blocks like a rocking R.E.M. while Maia pulls off one of the most polite eff yous you ever heard. Whole Flat World is a study in neat stop-time rhythms, a driving acoustic guitar, and a chorus that you may find yourself repeating without realizing what its really about.
"I loved you more than anything in the whole flat world," alone might sound like a fond look back, when taken out of context, but pay attention and you realize that Maias singing about waking up to the limits of a going-nowhere relationship:
You were my whole flat world
til the day I discovered it was round
you were my favorite movie
til they started making them with sound
do you blame me for thinking maybe
love was a bigger place
that I could sail beyond your edge
and not fall off into space
wisdom is a little black pearl
I loved you more than anything in the
Whole flat world
No doubt about it: the gal is a master of the sweetest put-downs you ever heard.
Elsewhere, You Are Mine shimmies with an Indigo Girls-like acoustic guitar funk, while John Q. Lonely might make you doublecheck the writing credits to make sure they dont read Lennon/McCartney honest and true. John Q. is Maias Nowhere Man: he has it all figured out and pities those he sees around him:
Oh, but people like me
are spared the regret
of foolishly giving more than we get
were not stupid enough to let somebody in
not me, not again
(That not again doesnt show up until the songs final moments, by the way – explaining everything that has preceded it in three syllables. Good one, Maia.)
The album closer, Girl On Her Way could have been tucked amongst the tracks on Carole Kings Tapestry album all those years ago and would have fit right in. Simply Maia backing herself on piano, it has all the power of some of those early-‘70s AM radio classics that teens could repeat the lyrics of and sound worldly or heartbroken 40somethings could quietly nod their heads in agreement.
Thats the deal: in another time and in another place, Echo would be playing in dorm rooms everywhere come fall, for sure. Maybe it will it deserves to be.