“I always want to write in a way where people will plug their own lives into the song,” says Nashville-based singer-songwriter Maia Sharp while reflecting on her forthcoming 9th solo album, Reckless Thoughts, due August 18. “And I want them to choose this album because it provokes whatever it is they need to feel.”
The culmination of a 25-year career that’s included writing songs for the likes of Bonnie Raitt, Trisha Yearwood, Cher, and Art Garfunkel, Reckless Thoughts both continues and refines a confessional mood that emerged with Sharp’s previous album, 2021’s Mercy Rising. While that record was an Americana eruption of emotions from the end of a long marriage and leaving her native California, Reckless Thoughts is a more nuanced, clear-headed review of that life-changing roll of the dice. “This album took some searching,” mulls Sharp. “It was more of a challenge, because I’m not in the middle of a dramatic emotional mess anymore.”
Born in California’s Central Valley, Sharp and her family moved to Los Angeles when she was five. Following in the footsteps of her Grammy-winning songwriter father, Randy Sharp (Linda Ronstadt, Emmylou Harris etc.), she studied music theory at California State University Northridge, but was originally a saxophonist. Her focus as a songwriter and then performer – initially influenced by Raitt, Ricky Lee Jones, Paul Simon, and her dad – emerged only at the turn of her 20s.
“Once I started doing that, it just changed my chemistry,” Sharp recalled. “What drove me to get on a stage and sing is my love of songwriting more than anything else. And I knew it was a long shot that I would find a home for every song with another artist so I became one of those artists.”
Within two years of her debut show, Sharp almost simultaneously landed her first cut for a major artist (on Cher’s 1995 album It’s a Man’s World) and signed recording and publishing deals with industry legend Miles Copeland. Soon she was being jetted off to songwriting workshops in a French castle alongside the likes of Carole King, Jon Bon Jovi, The Bangles, and The Go-Gos.
It was a crash course in songcraft that’s helped Sharp carve out an enduring career as both a solo artist and songwriter, as well as a producer for Garfunkel, Edwin McCain and others. She’s toured extensively in the US and UK, including appearances on NPR’s “All Things Considered,” CBS Early Morning, and the TODAY Show, while also an NYU adjunct professor and a longtime participant in Songwriting with Soldiers’ writing retreats for veterans.
With an intriguingly androgynous voice and rare medley of influences, Sharp has happily confounded pigeonholing throughout her career. She’s been labelled country, alt-country, roots, and pop – sometimes on the same release. The 10-track Reckless Thoughts, its title a reference to scenarios that spun in Sharp’s head as she pondered a new life in Nashville, is a songs-before-style caress of what’s now broadly termed Americana. It’s a record with an honest heart and refreshingly appreciative aura, conveyed through Sharp’s sublime timbre and innate, cultured melodic instincts; an audio exhalation after surviving the transition into single life in the natural songwriter’s habitat of Nashville.
“I never thought I would leave California,” she said. “Once I did, I had a feeling it would be easier to build a community in Nashville, but I had no idea how much easier it would be. It’s really tapped into something I didn’t know I needed so badly.”
The self-produced Reckless Thoughts was largely tracked at Nashville’s Resistor Studio, with owner/engineer Joshua Grange (Sheryl Crow, k.d. lang etc.) also contributing electric guitars and lap steel. The perennial influence of musical collaborator, mentor, and longtime friend Bonnie Raitt is once again evident, amidst flecks of Phoebe Bridgers’ contemplative melodicism, the country-folk eloquence of the late John Prine, and Bon Iver’s adventurous spirit. The album is preceded by digital singles “Kind” and “Old Dreams.”
A jaunty co-write with longtime collaborators Mindy Smith and Dean Fields, “Kind” celebrates and craves non-judgemental compassion in the current era. The song’s “My kind of people are kind people,” hook is both an earworm and a reassuring breath of faith in humanity. The piano- and slide-kissed “Old Dreams,” spontaneously composed with Grammy-nominated Garrison Starr during a wine-fueled nighttime chat, explores the exorcising of old ambitions we sometimes forget to update to reflect all we’ve learned since they were first built.
“I love when a song also serves as a reminder to myself, in this case, to let a dream change and grow up with me. That one just hits me in the gut, ” offers Sharp. “I’ve played it for just four people, all from different walks, and they allcried. I think we’ve tapped into something universal.”
Head-bobbing, thought-provoking album opener “She’ll Let Herself Out” will be released to radio to coincide with the album’s August release. “It isn’t literally about she’s gonna let herself out of a situation or relationship,” Sharp explains. “It’s that she doesn’t need anybody’s approval – she already knows she’s valid, and she’s got this.”
Reckless Thoughts will be supported by solo touring, beginning with a date with Raitt in Athens, Georgia, on May 17.