Make no mistake; we’re HUGE music geeks here at ChunkyGlasses. But even the biggest music geeks can somehow miss something stunning and beautiful, which we did with Heather Maloney’s sophomore album Time & Pocket Change. We won’t hang our heads about it though; we’re too busy basking in the glow of an amazing artist who deserves considerably more attention than she’s currently getting.
Released in April 2011, Time & Pocket Change has been slowly garnering stellar reviews up and down the east coast. Maloney, a New Jersey native, is now based in western Massachusetts and as she tours more frequently from her home base, word of this incredible talent continues to spread. Her voice ranges from powerful yell to playful warble to melted-butter-smooth; her music runs the gamut from sparse and foreboding to crafty and – I’ll use the word again – playful. The songs call to mind any number of other singer-songwriters but she manages to beat them all at their own game; her straight pop songs are constructed better than those of Dar Williams, her introspective songs are more surrealistic and evocative than Kristin Hersh’s, and her creative flourishes (such as a jazzy trumpet on the title track) outshine and are considerably less contrived than those of Regina Spektor.
But it’s really the voice that ties it together. Maloney is trained in both classical and jazz singing, but has also gone the other way and spent ten days doing silent meditation, literally not making a sound. Trying to say who Maloney “sounds like” as a singer is a tall order – there’s a little Shawn Colvin, a little Ani DiFranco and, it must be said, a little Jewel (who for her myriad failings still has a great voice).
But those voices are occasionally (or in the case of Jewel, constantly) paired with subpar music. That doesn’t happen on Time & Pocket Change. The opener, “Fifty Lines,” sets the tone with frequent tempo changes and pleasantly warbling vocals that stay in pitch so perfectly they could pass for auto tuned. “Impermanence” is a beautiful piano ballad about the fragility of relationships sung with a crippling earnestness. “No Shortcuts” is a countrified blues jam that cleverly compares finding your way across the country to being in therapy. “Quantum Physics” is a quiet meditation that reveals Maloney’s mastery of minimalism as she adds resonant percussion to her tenor guitar.
The tenor guitar makes several welcome appearances on the record. Basically a banjo’s thin neck on an acoustic guitar’s body, the tenor guitar has a considerably higher pitch, almost sounding more like a zither or autoharp than a guitar. The instrument matches Maloney’s high, trembling vocals perfectly, especially on “Nightstand Drawer,” perhaps the most nakedly emotional song on the album (and that’s saying something).
Many singer-songwriters seem to be loved by a hardcore group of devotees but never truly break out. Rory Block, Barbara Kessler, Fiona Joyce, and dozens of others should be household names, but have never managed to break through. There’s something about Maloney that says she’ll fare different, and that we’ll be hearing much more from this astonishing young singer.