I have a great appreciation for intelligent songwriters, artists who can relay ideas, convey emotions, tell a story with detail and insight while steering clear of triteness or excessive verbiage. Just to complicate the process the songwriter also has to write a pleasing melody in order to complete the deal. That's why I like Maia Sharp; this woman's got an ear for melody and head for lyrics that tweak the brain.

Perhaps the secret of Maia's rare talent is in her genes; she’s the daughter of Nashville songwriter Randy Sharp. His songs have been recorded by The Dixie Chicks (an honor Maia has also achieved), Reba McIntire, Glen Campbell, and Emmylou Harris. It’s more likely she learned from watching her father’s career successes and from years of honing her own craft through hard work. It shows on this album of finely polished songs.

“Polite Society” plays on a familiar theme in Sharp’s work. Singing from the view of the righteous outsider who challenges societal rules she sings “the greater good you go on about/has been redefined to keep everyone out.” “John Q. Lonely” continues the loner theme as she describes a man embracing solitude as he reaches his 50th birthday. “Death By Perfection,” featuring Bonnie Raitt, recognizes that imperfection is the very thing that distinguishes the individual and, perhaps, makes each of us a more interesting person.

Most of the songs on Echo deal with relationships and love. Sharp manages enough originality to keep the topic fresh. “How I Could Have Loved You” reminisces about past love from a place of hard won wisdom. “Whole Flat World” plays of the same theme as Sharp uses discovery as a metaphor for someone who grows beyond the borders of a relationship. Musically the album pops with sparkling melodies and a variety of instrumentation to surprise and delight. Besides Raitt, Sharp is joined by legendary drummer Jim Keltner, Linda Taylor (who is touring with Sharp) and some of her co-writers – Mark Addison, Pam Rose and Nina Singh. Super-star producer Don Was tempers Sharp’s folk edges by highlighting her ear for pop hooks.

Maia Sharp poses a deep, rich voice that surprises novice listeners. It’s not a typical female pop vocal and challenges the conventional wisdom of what listeners expect from a female singer. Whether Maia Sharp wins her long deserved attention based on the strength of her fourth album might depend on that point. She’s already established herself as a songwriter of note and has gained a loyal following among both smart fans and fellow musicians.

Rosemary Welsch (Afternoon Mix Host)