Paper Doll, the second album by vocalist, songwriter and CBS recording artist Sharon Little, is the artist’s response to a pop culture mindset that seems to require female entertainers to adopt a particular look or behave outrageously in order to gain attention.
Blazing her way on an accelerated career path – she went from waiting tables in a Philadelphia coffee shop straight to a debut album and a national tour with Robert Plant, Alison Krauss and T Bone Burnett – Sharon was exposed to many forces pulling at her, offering advice, direction, and often, confusion. Paper Doll is Sharon’s manifesto that she be judged on what she offers through her music, and not by the outfits she wears or who she’s been dating.
She delivers this message through songs that effortlessly fuse pop, rock, R&B, and even a taste of electronic music in a direct, emotionally potent style. As Sharon explains, “It often seems that female artists have to look and act in a certain way in order to be successful – like they’re paper dolls and society or ‘the business’ just slaps these images on them. We have these young girls acting and dressing in a very overly-sexual way; like they’re grown women – is that their idea, or have they been told to look and act that way in order to sell themselves? Either way, it’s just sad. I thought we women were supposed to have made great strides in the past several decades. Spending ten minutes on a few popular websites makes me feel like we’ve only gone backward.”
Produced by Grammy winner Don Was – noted for his work on chart-topping albums by the Rolling Stones and Bonnie Raitt, among many others – the Philadelphia-bred artist’s sophomore release follows her critically-acclaimed 2008 CBS Records debut Perfect Time For A Breakdown. “Perfect Time… was the first record I’d ever really done,” she said, “and I didn’t really know quite how to express myself back then. A person’s art is a life of it's own, I am learning every day how to better channel the growth of my music...and, as a result, this album is all me, speaking in my own voice, about my own feelings. I’ve gained confidence about who I am and how to express that with my music.”
The release of Paper Doll succeeds Little’s triumphant run of shows as the opening act on Robert Plant and Alison Krauss’ 2008 U.S. Raising Sand concert tour. She was selected from dozens of acts clamoring for the slot, and Sharon received standing ovations in front of sold-out houses in arenas and amphitheaters across the country. “It would be an understatement to say it was the most amazing experience ever,” Little says. “I’m speechless from it still! Robert Plant is the nicest guy. T Bone is awesome. Alison Krauss is an angel – she would roller skate around the stadiums with her son while I was doing sound checks and sing along to my songs.” Following that tour and countless other gigs throughout the U.S., Sharon spent months honing the many song ideas she had been developing with her collaborator Scot Sax into a song cycle that became Paper Doll.
She explains that along with the album’s examination of an artist finding her place in popular culture, several of its striking compositions – highlighted by “Shake and Shiver,” “If You Want To See Me Cry” and “Good Goodbye” – are rooted in the turmoil one often finds in personal relationships. Little chronicles the process of healing the emotional wounds they inflict, observed from a perspective of inner strength and self-awareness. Acknowledging the albums’ roots in her own romantic life, she says with a laugh, “I guess the ups and downs of my personal relationships gave me plenty of musical inspiration when I started thinking about making this record.” Was, who also appears on keyboards and bass, brought focus to the set’s punchy sound. Little says of the producer, “He truly takes a vision and materializes it. It was the first time I ever worked with somebody who said, ‘I want to take what you want and make it happen.’ Don was my professional voice. He’s an amazing guy, and he’s such a great musician.”
Paper Doll arrives after a busy two years for Little. Her music has been ubiquitous on television: the opening track from Perfect Time…, “Follow That Sound,” became the theme for The Cleaner on A&E, and she sang that song on-camera in one memorable episode. She performed another track from that album, “Spaceship,” in a sequence shot in New York’s 34th Street subway station for an episode of CSI: NY, and her songs have also been featured on NCIS, The Good Wife, Ghost Whisperer, and NUMB3RS. Little’s deep and soulful sound is the product of experience.
She says she wasn’t exposed to much pop music growing up in a large blue-collar family: She seldom listened to the radio, and didn’t see a TV until she was 11. She received her first guitar at 16: When her closest childhood friend was killed in a tragic car accident, the girl’s mother gave Little the instrument as a gift. “I found myself channeling the pain and grief I was going through, with my voice and my guitar,” she says. “That’s where my soul was born.”
Thousands of miles and hundreds of gigs later, Sharon Little is making music with a newfound poise that rings clearly in every note of Paper Doll. She says of her journey, “Three years ago, I had never been in any states besides Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Texas, and now, I’ve been to every state in this country except three. I’ve met countless artists who’ve inspired me greatly, and my music has been heard all over TV. I’ve got a lot of people behind me, helping me to achieve my dream to be a true artist, and I hope to show aspiring young artists that they, too, can achieve their dreams without compromising who they really are.”