Maia Sharp – Natalie’s Grandview (concert review)

Maia Sharp – Natalie’s Grandview – August 23, 2023

New album has just hit the streets, so she hits the road

What is it about youth and music?  We tend to glorify those artists just starting out.  Even with legendary performers, we tend to say we “like their older stuff better.”  

Well, here comes Maia Sharp to throw a wrench in all that nonsense.  

At 52, she’s been releasing albums for over half of her life.  Yet, her music just seems to get better and better.  Close to 2/3rds of her 90-minute set at Natalie’s Grandview in Columbus consisted of recent material – music from her last two, excellent records: Mercy Rising (2021) and Reckless Thoughts (2023).  You can’t name too many artists over 50 that are brave enough to let their recent material stand on its own.  

The first quartet of songs came from Mercy Rising.  The album was a departure of sorts for her, full of sonic soundscapes.  Stripped of the studio sweetness, these versions followed a more direct path.  With just her husky, soulful voice, and supple guitar work, both “Junkyard Dog” and “Not Your Friend” were darker and deeper, with their meanings less obscured, while “Nice Girl,” (with its very funny line of “you’re gonna make some nice girl miserable some day”) was a highlight.  “Backburner,” Mercy’s single, sounded fantastic stripped down. 

If there was any justice in the world, Sharp’s new song “Kind,” would be a smash radio hit.  It’s got a catchy-as-hell, sing-a-long chorus, and it’s about, um, actually being kind to people.  Other new songs that stood out were “Fallen Angel” and “On a Good Day.”  

She dug back into her catalog for a few tracks:  “Nothing But the Radio On” was a sizable hit on AAA stations back in 2015.  Yet, this solo version was slower, more sexy and less adorned.  She pulled out “Long Way Home,” which dates back to 2002.  Here’s where you can really see her growth.  Honestly, she’s a much better singer now – and, she’s more assured of who she is.

The highlight of her encore was a nod to Bonnie Raitt, who recorded a trio of Sharp’s songs on one of her albums.  She returned the favor by tackling Raitt’s “Nick of Time.”  

Between songs, she engaged the crowd in funny anecdotes (the story behind “Little Bottles” and her fear of flying was quite good).

After seeing Maia Sharp live, I think she’d be well served with a solo, acoustic live album.  While she’s had success with full-band efforts, and recent, country-psychedelia albums, her great songwriting shines the best with just her voice and acoustic guitar.  

Just a quick note about Natalie’s: great staff, great pizza, and oddly, there was another concert going on simultaneously (blues artist, Curtis Salgado) in a much larger room, just down the hall.  Yet, the sound proofing ensured you didn’t hear any bleed over from either room.  And, they have music almost every night of the week.  —Tony Peters