Though singer/songwriter Risa Binder lives in Brooklyn, the Maryland native found the spark, the producer and the musicians she needed to cut her pleasing debut album, Paper Heart, in Nashville. An airy synth pattern, snapping drum beat, quick and clean guitar rhythm and the arrival of Binder’s lead vocal—up front, in your face—on the album’s opening track, “You Made It Rain,” immediately announce that this is no Nashville country record. This is smart, infectious pop music, tastefully produced by Marshall Altman (Natasha Bedingfield, Matt Nathanson) to showcase Binder’s appealing voice and persona.
The 10 songs on Paper Heart mostly deal with different aspects of relationships—the bliss and butterflies of infatuation (“Could Be Love); the unfettered joy of new love (“You Made It Rain”); the excitement and peril inherent in rekindling and old relationship (“Second Time Around”); the suffocating feeling of an imminent breakup (“Falling Apart”); and weighing the disappointment of a relationship ending badly with the possibility that a new door could open (“Feel Like Myself”). Binder penned the songs on the album with several different co-writers—including three with producer Altman, who has had previous co-writes recorded by the likes of Shawn Mullins, Warren Haynes, Marc Broussard and Smash star Katherine McPhee—but she so convincingly inhabits the changing mood of the lyrics that they all feel like they’re part of her story.
The arrangements are wonderfully spare, and the playing—by a five-piece group of Nashville pros I’d frankly never heard of—nicely reinforces the emotions of the songs without gimmick or pretense. Ten years ago I would’ve said that most of these songs are radio-ready, but I have no idea what radio plays anymore. The point is, Binder has a commercial sound and enough of an “everywoman” vibe that it’s easy to picture this album being embraced by a wide audience.
Producer: Marshall Altman. Engineer: Eric Robinson. Studio: Smoakstack (Nashville). Mastering: Emily Lazar and Joe LaPorta at The Lodge (NYC).