Heather Maloney celebrates new CD release at The Shea Saturday
When singer-songwriter Heather Maloney takes the stage at The Shea Theater, 71 Avenue A, Turners Falls, Saturday, March 16, at 8 p.m., it will be the biggest show of her career. And not just big in that it’s the largest room she has ever played, but big in that it is the local CD release show for her new self-titled album, her first on the Northampton- based Signature Sounds label.
The album and the show are another step forward in a career that has advanced rapidly since Maloney, 27, made her performing debut playing in a coffeehouse in Northampton in 2009. Growing up in New Jersey, Maloney loved music and even formally studied voice for awhile. It was not until she spent three years at a meditation retreat in Barre, however, that she realized that writing and singing was what she wanted to do with her life.
Once she started performing, it didn’t take long for Maloney to win over local crowds with her distinct voice, melodic folk-influenced songs and heartfelt, intelligent lyrics.
The new disc, her third, was released on March 12 and is her first with her band — bassist Ken Maiuri and drummer J. J. O’Connell, both longtime players on the local music scene. Additional musicians were brought in to work on the album, pushing the 11 songs well beyond the boundaries of folk and even into the realm of rock at times.
When asked how she would describe the new album, Maloney hesitated awhile before answering. “It’s pretty eclectic,” Maloney answered in a recent phone interview from Florida, where she was vacationing. “There are some country moments, some pop, some acoustic moments, too. The intention was to have it be a lot more lyrically focused than the previous albums, even though there is a lot going on musically.”
She added that she often uses the term “adventurous folk” to described her music instead of dragging out a long laundry list of her many musical influences.
Lyrically, Maloney looks inside herself when writing, even though she often writes in the voice of a character. Once she spends some time with a song, she often realizes that it is autobiographical. On “Heather Maloney,” she explores themes like being true to oneself (on the poppy single “Great Imposter”) the joys of love (“Flutter”) and the loss of love (“Flying on Helium”).
One of her favorite songs on the disc is a folk song called “Dirt and Stardust.”
“Don’t want these walls to wall me in forever/Don’t wanna make my home on fenced-in land/ We can buy our lot/We can mark our spot but we’re travelers whether we like it or not/So please make my castle out of sand,” sings Maloney in a voice that brings to mind Joni Mitchell and Regina Spektor. On the surface, the song deals with a woman who is a restless soul. Dig deeper and it is about impermanence, a theme she explores in her meditation practice.
The song holds meaning to the Northampton-based singer-songwriter on many different levels.
“I think that song came about at a time that I was starting to be a lot more focused on lyrics and telling a story, whereas before I focused more on melody and song structure,” she said. “And I was relating to the character in the song at the time and it felt really authentic and not forced.”
Occasionally, Maloney steps outside of herself to take on a topical subject such as on “Grace,” a song about a single mother publicly scorned for accepting welfare.
“Grace is inspired by my own mother or other single mothers that I’ve known. It started off as an angry song because I had seen this tea party protest and one of the things that they were protesting was welfare,” Maloney explained.
The song begins with the line “She didn’t know that she was a leech,” which was inspired by a poster she saw at the protest, but eventually evolves into a song about personal strength.
Maloney said that she does not write a lot of songs about social issues as they tend to rise out of frustration, and that is not a place that she likes to write from. There are a few such songs on this disc, however.
The CD release for her last album 2011 “Time and Pocket Change” was held at the Iron Horse Music Hall in Northampton. For this release show, Maloney and her band decided to go with a bigger room, and the beautiful Shea seemed like the perfect choice for Maloney (who used to live in Turners Falls).
In addition to her band, Maloney will be backed by musicians Ryan Hommel, Anand Nyack and David Hayes.
“Some of the songs on the album had six instruments on them, so we are bringing in additional musicians with the hopes of recreating the sounds of the album as much as possible,” Maloney said.
The Shea show is the start of a very busy year for the up-and-coming singer. Maloney will be touring throughout the U.S. in an effort to boost her profile on a national level. Her vacation in Florida marks the first time in many years she has been away from home and not performing regularly. “It’s quite nice,” she told me. But as much as she is enjoying the downtime, Maloney is ready and excited to bring this new album to her listeners.
“I feel like I am going to come back relaxed, refreshed and ready to dive into everything,” she said.
Tickets are $12 in advance and $15 at the door. Advance tickets are available online at wor at World Eye Bookshop, 156 Main St., Greenfield. The Connecticut-based Americana band Poor Old Shine will open. Seating at The Shea is general admission.
Sheryl Hunter is a music writer who lives in Easthampton. Her work has appeared in various regional and national magazines. You can contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org