Haley Dreis – Taking Time EP (2011)

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Speaking from the heart is one thing, but to sing from that tender place — to reveal just how vulnerable you are on stage — takes a different kind of courage. And Haley Dreis, the South Carolina classical fiddle player turned budding popular songsmith, has that courage. She talks about things others, perhaps, are unable to. And in leaving herself so unprotected, in opening herself to such romantic self-scrutiny, Dreis’ new Taking Time EP takes on a silvery depth of meaning.

Not that it’s a dark place. Dreis’ pressing emotional themes are swaddled in a shimmering pop sheen, as on the opener “Sure Thing” — which starts out as this Aimee Mann-ish acoustic meditiation on a stalled relationship only to utterly lift off with a concentric wordless chorus.

Witty, almost sly at times, Dreis’ inventive song structures work like a second voice in her head, quickly pushing her past any prospective self-pity and into broader realizations. Her lovelorn manifestos are also sprinkled in with moments of sweet temptation, like the first-love confection “Candy in the Summertime” with its thumping, bluegrassy rhythm.

“Where the Heart Is,” the first single, might just be a little too Beatle-y for its own good. But even when her roving imagination doesn’t take her to entirely new places, Dries’ cool and suggestive voice — reaffirming, sighing and then soaring, with this sensitive warble sometimes — rises past your objections.

The EP’s title track, nakedly honest in its telling, finds her letting go (both in the lyric, and in her singing) in a way that’s far more personal, and far more dramatic. With “All For You,” a swirling violin-driven song that pushed Dreis to the top of the Something Else! Reviews list of unsigned acts for 2010, she’s constructed a compact drama that rises and falls like a love affair, or a long-held heavy sigh. “Don’t Keep Loving Me” is more confrontational, with an abrupt, ringing jangle and a softer, stingingly direct vocal. But when she sings “it goes on and on,” then repeats it, Dries moves beyond the expected poison-pen tell-off into a more honest place — deftly conveying the final weariness that surrounds passion’s end.

Then, there’s the EP-closing “Delicate.” Working alongside the sparest of musical instrumentation, just a lonely piano and a ruminating guitar, Dries builds toward a revelatory moment this time all by herself, creating an unshakeable spell inside her voice. Taking Time ends with a devastating finality, as she sings “I can’t win .. because I am delicate.”

It couldn’t, of course, be further from the truth. In fact, that’s just what gives Haley Dreis, and her distinctively introspective yet boldly fortifying new EP, such lasting intrigue.

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Haley Dreis is performing with Emily Hearn — another new artist we’ve raved about before — at a release party for the Taking Time EP scheduled for tonight at the White Mule, 1530 Main Street in Columbia, South Carolina.

Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso has written for USA Today, American Songwriter, All About Jazz, and a host of others. Honored as columnist of the year five times by the Associated Press, Louisiana Press Association and Louisiana Sports Writers Association, he oversaw a daily section named Top 10 in the U.S. by the AP before co-founding Something Else! Nick is now associate editor of Ultimate Classic Rock.
Nick DeRiso
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