Sharp as a Sting

“Damn,” I thought when I first put Maia Sharp’s self-titled album in the car stereo, “this sounds like Sting. I’m not in the mood to listen to Sting.”

So I took the disc out and put on disc one of Super Junky Monkey’s Songs Are Our Universe instead.

Fast forward a month.

A single line from Sharp’s “Long Way Home” has been reverberating in my head when I wake up in the morning: “But I followed you there like the sick fuck I am”.

This line wouldn’t be so shocking if it were couched in crunching guitars and delivered in a scream. But it is shocking — Sharp houses the lyric in skillfully written pop music, and she sings it with the longing of a mistress resigned to play second fiddle.

And damn does it work.

Before I know it, Maia Sharp, the album, has become a frequent spin. In this case, the Sting-isms in Sharp’s songwriting — an intelligent blend of hooks and melody with jazzy harmonies and solid arrangements — aren’t merely derivative adult contemporary radio fodder.

It’s hard to dismiss the subtle touches in Sharp’s music — a chiming bell in “Willing to Burn”, dissonant chords on “Crooken Crown”, hints of Latin rhythms on “One Good Reason”, country-isms on “Happiness”.

Yeah, maybe the saxophones on “Crimes of the Witness” sound way late 80s, but after a while, they don’t sound so dated.

Sharp’s husky voice is certainly a welcome antidote to the all the whiny waif singers being passed off as “women artists” these days. (Vanessa Carlton? Give me a freekin break.)

Perhaps the nicest surprise comes at the end. Sharp co-wrote “You Can’t Have It All” with Kim Richey. The track opened Richey’s 1999 album, Glimmer, and marked Richey’s graduation from the Nashville songwriting assembly line to something personal.

Sharp’s own take on the track is actually more minimal and roots-based, opening with a vaguely Celtic feel.

Then there’s the recording she did as a child (“Ghosts”) which closes the album. A sentimental move, for sure, but somehow fitting.

Bonnie Raitt and Dave Matthews fans will also definitely be drawn to Sharp. Art Garfunkel was even so nice as to name drop Raitt on the promotional sticker plastered on the shrink wrap.

But Sharp isn’t below anyone who appreciates the days when Sting really did matter.