Last night, Kerstin and I were fortunate to attend WYEP-FM’s “CD Live” Bonnie Raitt concert, featuring Maia Sharp, at the Benedum Theater in Pittsburgh.
With Bonnie Raitt, what you expect is what you get – an evening of spirited bluesy pop and sass, consummate guitar mastery, and Ms. Raitt’s obsessively tight rein, in media res, on sound engineering and arranging. “See all that ‘conducting’ she’s doing on stage, ordering people around?,” my red-headed wife leaned over and whispered to me. “That’s what red-heads do,” she explained, as if I needed reminding.
One of the performers she was “ordering around” was the non-red-headed singer-songwriter Maia Sharp, the daughter of veteran Nashville songwriter Randy Sharp. I first encountered Ms. Sharp back around 1998 -- when WYEP (one of our 3 local NPR stations) was pushing her album Hardly Glamour, featuring a pulsating, romantic, outlaw guitar trot, “I Need This to be Love” – and I’ve come to appreciate her work.
Somehow I missed her 2002 release, Maia Sharp, when it came out, but I quickly snapped up her third album, Fine Upstanding Citizen, earlier this year. I missed her most recent appearance in Pittsburgh during the Spring, but three of her songs turned up on Bonnie Raitt’s new release Souls Alike, and I was pleasantly surprised when it was announced that Sharp would be opening for Bonnie Raitt at the show for which I had already purchased our tickets.
Like any opening act, Sharp’s set suffered a bit due to set design – the headliner calls the shots on where her band’s instruments are to be placed, and so sitting in the 4th row, we got a little more percussion from Sharp’s drummer than we needed. Nonetheless, Maia was in top form on some of her best songs. She has a dark caramel voice that is anything but a typical pop singer’s voice; consequently, on tunes such as “Red Dress,” "Something Wild" and “The Reminder,” the intelligence of her lyrics seems rather highlighted by her unusual sound.
She has a knack, also, for getting the most out of very little as an arranger – which I guess is why I had no idea that Sharp knew how to play so many instruments. After a few tunes with the guitar, Sharp sat down at the keyboards and explained, “Okay, now I have to tell my brain . . . ‘piano’ . . .” – only to break off without warning in the middle of the song to pick up and play a neatly concealed soprano saxophone. During the rest of the evening, when Bonnie Raitt brought her out to play along with her band a few times, Sharp would eventually play 4 kinds of saxophone, lugging a baritone sax out for one rock number and blowing it well enough to out-Morphine Morphine’s Dana Colley.
Raitt is to be credited for pushing Maia Sharp out to a greater audience, and last night’s concert was a great chance to see her growth as a songwriter and performer.
(You might want to try Maia Sharp’s Fine Upstanding Citizen for yourself.)