When I was seventeen, my grandfather drove my sister and me across the country to California as a graduation present. This was the year of my musical awakening—the age when I discovered there was more to the wide world than what played on the Top Forty radio. My parents had raised us with a healthy respect for all genres, but when it came time to choose, I selected the familiar, the popular. A week in a van with my Pappaw and another week in San Francisco with my semi-hippie aunt changed all that.
During that vacation, we consumed The Eagles, Steve Winwood, Fleetwood Mac, Bob Seger, The Doobie Brothers, and Jackson Browne. I scoured the shops in California for any and all music I could find, sharing my discoveries with my less-than-enthusiastic sister. Each memory has a song, and each song has a memory. Nothing brings back my first sight of the Golden Gate Bridge quite like Don Henley. I’ve carried this gift for years, have been snapped back to the incredible scenery in the west and the gorgeous views of the Pacific with just a chord or a word.
When I first heard Dreams of the San Joaquin, the strangest thing happened. These songs recalled that trip, even though I’d never before heard them. The storytelling, the chord structures, the musical style… It all adds up to an amazing picture of California, and I see it in my head and feel it in my heart. That’s not to say the artists sound like The Eagles; the album holds too many country influences. I didn’t dance in my seat as I listened—the way I did while riding down the Pacific Coast Highway—because the melodies are mellow, laid back, rich, and full rather than rocking, driving, and bouncing tunes. In spite of these things, I still relive the two best weeks of my life when I hear the songs.
Dreams of the San Joaquin is a beautiful picture of California, painting the mountains, the vineyards, the coast, and the desert with gorgeous colors. The artists represent some of the best in music, with Randy Sharp at the helm. His songs have been recorded by the likes of Emmylou Harris and Reba McEntire. Daughter Maia Sharp carries on the tradition, writing tunes for Bonnie Raitt and Trisha Yearwood. Wife and mother Sharon Bays brought her intense love for the San Joaquin and her knowledge of people—obtained through several degrees in anthropology—to the project. The group is rounded out by close friend Jack Wesley Routh, Grammy-winning songwriter. The end result is a carefully crafted, beautifully delivered album that gave me a gift I never expected to receive. My own personal highlights include A Home, performed by Maia Sharp, Or So the Heart Remembers, performed by Randy Sharp, and For Old Time’s Sake, performed by Sharon Bays.
Perhaps my own story creates a bias others won’t feel. Maybe my attachment to the songs and the memories they bring changes my perception of the songs. I tend to doubt that. I’m certain anyone who listens will receive their own gift, make their own connection to the music. Without listening, you’ll never know. To find the album, you can check iTunes and Amazon. If you want to learn more about the artists, you can visit Maia Sharp’s website.