Maia Sharp, Fine Upstanding Citizen

Maia Sharp, Fine Upstanding Citizen

At first glance, the cover of Maia Sharp’s Fine Upstanding Citizen is as unremarkable as the album covers associated with many otherwise remarkable solo singer/songwriters. Sharp herself graces the cover, and in case we fail to recognize her, her name is printed in large, plain print above her picture. She’s carrying a guitar, and of course she’s not smiling because, after all, she’s a serious singer-songwriter and a darling of the genre championed by publications like Paste Magazine and Tracks. That genre is adult contemporary folk-pop, and for a solo songwriter like Sharp, there’s plenty of competition for the attention of XFM listeners. Luckily for Sharp, though, such distinguished artists as Richard Julian, Bonnie Raitt and Lisa Loeb have taken notice of the 12 unaffected, folksy pop songs on this record. To put it another way: anyone who lists Kim Richey as a co-writer probably deserves my attention and yours, as well.

I listened to Citizen on a long, one-way roadtrip from Texas to New York. I was leaving behind a familiar life to pursue something new, different and perhaps wonderful. The things I had not sold or given away sat in the trunk of a friend’s car, and Sharp’s tomboyish but appealing voice urged me to keep driving. The theme of this record is subtle non-conformity: Sharp wants to break away from the ranks, but instead she secretly sheds the “standard issue gray” and dons a red dress that they “can’t take … away.” Sharp may seem like a fine upstanding citizen, but behind the facade of “regular Jane,” she’s quietly subversive.

Sharp’s voice falls comfortably somewhere between Erin McKeown and Catie Curtis; her voice is imperfect, but warm and comfortable. It’s a commendable achievement for Sharp to sound so similar to those two icons of adult contemporary folk-pop, but it would be a far greater achievement for her to find a more distinctive voice, or at least to break into territory that Catie Curtis hasn’t already covered. “Red Dress,” Sharp’s simple, infectious paean to non-conformity, is the strongest track on this record, and her voice works better with it’s paired the bright guitars; she sounds a little strained when singing against the piano ballad instrumentals on “Come Back to Me.”

For those who unabashedly love adult contemporary folk-pop, Sharp’s new record is worth a listen and falls on the “to-buy” list just below Amy Correia’s Lakeville. For the rest of us, Sharp’s record is pleasant enough, but we can probably just wait to hear the songs in the background of some romantic comedy or in the closing /credits of some new show on the WB.

BUY ME: Amazon

Review by . Review posted Tuesday, January 24th, 2006. Filed under Reviews.

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