Haley Dreis, “All For You” (2010): Download

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by Nick DeRiso

Haley Dreis likes to fiddle with expectations.

You wouldn’t expect a classically trained violinist to dabble in pop music. And you wouldn’t expect the self-confident nuance of “All For You” from someone who only began writing mainstream songs three years ago.

Yet she does both on the captivatingly poised and radio-ready “All For You” (listen here, and download it for free), exploring the frustrations inside every heart.

Dreis, a music performance major at the University of South Carolina, has actually studied classical violin since the age of 6. That informs “All For You,” both in its intriguing song structure and her pastoral turn on the violin. At the same time, she’s clearly stolen away from practice more than once for a few moments on the Ipod with Sara Bareilles, John Mayer, Sarah McLachlan and Damien Rice.

This layered intricacy rewards repeated listenings, as an engrossing narrative unfolds during “All For You.” She’s constructed a compact drama inside the lyric and inside the music, which rises and falls like a love affair, or a long-held heavy sigh.

The interesting part is, Dreis didn’t begin tinkering with pop music until her third year in college. Still, she quickly discovered a new passion.

After a summer writing binge, Dreis produced a self-released album called “Beautiful to Me” in mid-2009. She has since been featured in a nationwide promotion for Gap and in the ’09 Free Times Music Crawl, performed with singer-songwriter Jay Clifford (of the popular Charleston, South Carolina, band Jump, Little Children), found her way onto a couple of local year-ending best-of lists and, more recently, been selected as a featured artist by Mark Bryan’s Chucktown Music Group.

(Click here to purchase Haley Dreis’ Beautiful to Me on Amazon.com.)

The strength of her songwriting, and I think a principal reason for all of this early notice, goes back to Dreis’ canny ability to confound the easy assumption. “All For You,” contrary to its goopy title, isn’t about throwing yourself at the feet of love, but about walking away.

“Stay the same, stay the same,” the New Jersey native sings, with a memorably haunting voice reminescent of Aimee Mann, and a propulsive sound that recalls Natalie Imbruglia’s “Torn.” It’s not meant as a plea, but as an angry retort.

And as soon as this swooning flurry of remembrance, emotion and penetrating insight reaches its apex, she lets go. There is a devastating finality to the ending of “All For You,” as Dreis repeats “shut your eyes — and make it better.”

“All For You” ends not with a cardboard-cutout happy ending, but with an echoing goodbye.

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