Maia Sharp has been writing songs for 25 years, some for her own albums and others for artists such as Bonnie Raitt, The Chicks, Lisa Loeb, Trisha Yearwood, Art Garfunkel, Cher, Edwin McCain, Terri Clark, and many more in her genre agnostic – hard-to-pin-down approach which she has carried into her solo work. Reckless Thoughts follows her 2019 Mercy Rising and is again stoked with a plethora of co-writers including Garrison Starr, Kim Richey, Mindy Smith, Mando Saenz, and others. While the prior album brimmed with breakup songs and tinges of anger, this one speaks to the freedom of unburdened far-ranging thoughts of a single person making her way through the land of fellow songwriters in Nashville where the former Californian has lived now for six years. If you haven’t heard Sharp before, you’ll likely be surprised by the androgynous quality of her voice. She claims to be influenced by her longtime friend, Bonnie Raitt, but don’t expect to hear much in the way of blues.
Sharp, who is also a producer for others, produced this herself in close collaboration with Resistor Studio owner and engineer Joshua Grange who plays various guitars. Ross McReynolds is on drums, Will Monaker on guitars and keys, and contributors on select tracks. Sharp plays guitars, various keyboards, saxophone, baritone electric guitar and drums.
The album opener and destined single, “She’ll Let Herself Out” certainly seems somewhat autobiographical and speaks to the theme of newfound freedom and no need to seek permission. “Old Dreams” was released as a digital single as was “Kind.” The former, co-written with Starr, plays to spare but surprisingly lush sonic backdrop infused with piano and slide guitar as the lyrics address our collective failure to update old ambitions, accounting for what we’ve learned in the interim. It’s a gripping tune and a standout track. The strummed, feel good “Kind” was co-written with longtime pals, Mindy Smith and Dean Fields and has one of those lingering, indelible choruses – “My kind of people are kind people.” It’s refreshing to hear this in our increasingly divisive, accusatory, oft inhuman world.
Sharp’s writing collaborator on “On a Good Day” is Kim Richey as they write about shifting emotions and a need for privacy and non-social activities for one who struggles at times to put her best foot forward. Again, it’s the kind of emotional turf most of us can relate to. “California,” with Starr and Peter Groenwald is naturally nostalgic, coming from the former native. On the other hand, she’s gracious, feeling that experiences there have put her in good stead for navigating Nashville. Strings come courtesy of The Accidentals giving it an orchestral sheen that sets it apart from the others. “Too Far Now,” penned with Saenz, is another of those relatable experiences, getting in too deep before realizing it’s impossible to escape. That could apply to buying a house one can’t afford or moving to a locale that didn’t meet expectations. It has universal applications. We hear Sharp on saxophone here as it was the first instrument she learned how to play while earning a Music Theory degree at Cal State Northridge.
The dense, sonically rich “Gone Cryin;” with Elizabeth Elkins, speaks to the various ways one seeks escape. Sometimes a good cry is the best resort. “Fallen Angel” is Sharp’s own, recounting the various advice she received, some receptively and others not, while going through a difficult period, seeing it now in clearer focus, having emerged relatively unscathed – “I’m not here to be saved anyway.” The whispered “Everything You Need” with Madi Diaz and Anna Schulze has us eavesdropping on an intimate conversation between two that are close with the devastating line – “I’ve given you everything you need to break my heart.” She sums up her journey, the transition from California to Nashville and the binding relationship to newfound single life with a celebratory tone in the closer “The Road to Hell and Back.”
Sharp builds varied soundscapes to frame her remarkably relatable songs. Few songwriters can combine these two as well as she does.
- Jim Hynes