Back to the Garden

Are the ’60s back? That would be fine with Heather Maloney. Though just 28, she doesn’t feel connected to her own generation.

“Hipster detachment is so not me,” she says. “I’m a raw person affected by everything [and] sensitive to a fault.” She’s written several songs expressing how out of synch she is with the “seen-it-all, unmoved, too-cool-to-care” crowd.

Maloney was raised by a mother she describes as “a hippie, a feminist, and a psychotherapist.” There was no television, but there was a well-rifled record collection: The Beatles, Dylan, CSNY, and Joni Mitchell being favorites—especially Mitchell.

You’d probably bet money that Maloney and the band Darlingside consciously patterned their EP Woodstock with the 1960s in mind. You’d lose that bet, though the serendipitous way it happened is certainly evocative of that era. Blame a Baby Boomer: 57-year-old Val Haller, who lives near Chicago, but also writes a column called “Music Match” for the New York Times. Her goal is to expose the ’60s generation to the 20-somethings currently doing covers of classic ’60s songs. Haller heard and liked Maloney’s music, played it on her site, and hosted a house party when Maloney and Darlingside were touring the Midwest.

“She didn’t know Darlingside until the concert in her living room,” Maloney recalls, but at the end of the evening she said, “If I closed my eyes it could have been Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young with Joni Mitchell.” Haller made the proverbial offer you can’t refuse: make a video of a classic ’60s song and send it within a month, and she’d feature it in her New York Times column. Maloney recalls, “‘Woodstock’ seemed like the obvious choice because it was done by both CSNY and Mitchell. Darlingside literally worked out the arrangement in the back of a van.”

The video was shot, Haller posted it, and it went viral.

It even got a shout out from Graham Nash, also through unusual channels. Three people sent Nash the “Woodstock” video, and he was smitten. Coincidentally, Maloney and Darlingside were in Kansas City to attend the Folk Alliance conference. The keynote speaker was Nash himself, speaking about connecting generations. A mutual friend set up a meeting. Maloney admits she was awestruck:

“I’m a psycho Joni Mitchell fan and all I could think was, ‘Wow! You got to hang out with Joni Mitchell.’ But he was sweet and has all this wisdom about music. He’s been a dear supporter ever since.” How’s this for a Nash promo? “I’m sure that Joni would love this wonderfully heartfelt version of her classic song.”

“Woodstock” is one of the EP’s five tracks. Darlingside penned the hauntingly bittersweet “You Forget” and the plinky, wistful “Whippoorwill.” Another stunner is Maloney’s “No Shortcuts,” a soulful a cappella numbers that’s part hand-jive, part Motown, and part ’90s-era rhythm and blues. The latter comes from what Maloney laughingly calls her “period of rebellion,” when she turned 13 and started to listen to pop idols such as Mariah Carey and Boyz II Men.

“I think a lot of my vocalizations and inflections are straight out of Motown and older R&B,” she admits, “but, no, they probably came via ’90s music.” The direct inspiration for “No Shortcuts” was more pedestrian, though: “I wrote it while driving and was both meditative and distracted. I just needed to create space for other stuff in my mind.”

She hastily sang what she was thinking into her cellphone. Maloney wonders about her mind; now that she’s recorded Woodstock, she’s says she “wouldn’t be the tiniest bit surprised” if Joni Mitchell had been rattling around in her subconscious when she wrote “Dirt and Stardust,” her most-requested song. Think Mitchell’s line, “We are stardust/ We are golden/ And we’ve got to get ourselves back to the garden.”

Maloney declares herself a fan of the “production and writing of new folk music” that uses vintage equipment to evoke the past. Variously called acid folk, neo-psychedelia, jam bands or simply revivalist music, performers such as Fleet Foxes, Bon Iver, Perpetual Groove and MV and EE mine the sonic and visual trappings of ’60s music. Maloney is an even bigger fan of performers such as Anais Mitchell, Josh Ritter and indie folk artists “who are weaving in passion and commentary reflecting on the ways things are.”

It’s probably too much to hope that a viral video can get us back to the garden, but anyone lucky enough to catch Maloney and Darlingside live will certainly come away feeling better about the world.•


Heather Maloney and Darlingside hold an EP release party at the Parlor Room in Northampton on April 11.

Author: Rob Weir

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