Heather Maloney Is at Her Best on New Album ‘Making Me Break’

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Turns out Heather Maloney has a lot to say. After three years living and working in a silent meditation retreat in western Massachusetts, the Northampton singer and songwriter has found her voice with a string of increasingly compelling albums. “Making Me Break,” Maloney’s latest (and second for Signature Sounds), is easily her best so far.

Though she recorded these 12 songs in Nashville with producer Bill Reynolds, their real strength lies in Maloney’s deepening ability as a songwriter. “Making Me Break” sheds much of the wide-eyed folk-ingenue sensibility of her previous albums for a more knowing, world-wise approach. Reynolds helped with the arrangements, leaning toward a spare, rootsy rock sound with trebly guitar fills, subtle organ and spacious reverb that accentuates Maloney’s lyrics even as it pushes her as a singer. There’s an earthy power in her voice here that has been scarce in her earlier work, and she sounds more commanding and confident than ever before as she lets her voice ring out on “Otherwise” or underpins a casual suggestion with something more alluring on the robust opener “Linger Longer.”

Maloney’s growing maturity is just as evident in her lyrics. She’s always been a storyteller, but she’s rarely been as vivid or as focused, with lines full of naturalistic imagery and emotional weight made all the richer for what she leaves unsaid. As her narrator contemplates intimate revelations with a lover on “Word for Word,” Maloney sings, “Do you remember that time you told me/ You would unfold me like a paper bird,” and the hint of a quaver in her voice is devastating. From the secrets of our hearts, Maloney switches with ease to the glory of nature on “Dandelion,” distilling what should be a complicated metaphor for love into joyful simplicity with consider-the-lilies assurance.

Not every song is as nimble. “Involuntary” veers toward ponderous — troubled war veteran who used to like to sing has lost the music in his heart — while “Day With You” is pretty enough, but never quite dives below the surface. Maloney is better on “Hey Serena,” singing from the perspective of a concerned friend as she makes a broader point about the cultural effects of sexual objectification, even (or maybe especially) on those who insist they don’t mind. It’s subtler than it sounds. She’s even better on the title track, fighting her way through dark-season doldrums with firm conviction that this, too, shall pass as her voice floats over artful acoustic guitar picking and a bed of rich harmony vocals. It’s a song about moving forward, which makes it a fitting choice for the album title: Maloney, too, is moving forward, and if the songs on “Making Me Break” are any indication, she’s only picking up speed.

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