Haley Dreis – Lady with a Rocket (2012)

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Returning with another batch of tastefully shimmering, open and revealing pop, Haley Dreis doesn’t swerve from the ready-made template of her recent recordings on Lady with a Rocket, so much as tinker around the edges.

Still, there was little that really needed fixing, as this former violin prodigy-turned-South Carolina coffeeshop favorite-turned upcoming Nashville acolyte continues a quick ascent toward long-deserved wider recognition. Lady with a Rocket, set for release today, finds her working alongside folks with connections to Carrie Underwood, Kenny Rogers, Aerosmith, Randy Travis and others.

Perhaps just as importantly, Dreis’ lyrics on this, her third full-length, are every bit as heartfelt as those collaborators are talented — with sad tales, real talk, hard memories and tough-minded retorts finding their place amongst chewy hooks and smart instrumental flourishes. Dreis continues to grow as a singer, too, uncovering the vulnerable places that give new heft to moments like the title track and “Gonna Be All Right,” even as she reminds a thoughtless partner that he can’t keep her earthbound. Honest and relatable, they’re also imminently humable.

See, though she sings and she no doubt is a songwriter, Dreis doesn’t stumble into that decidedly uncommercial netherworld of so-called “singer-songwriters” — those talented enough to construct thoughtful songs, but not open enough or happy enough or interested enough to make them catchy.

[SOMETHING ELSE! REWIND: With 2011’s ‘Taking Time,’ Haley Dreis’ inventive song structures work like a second voice in her head, quickly pushing her past any prospective self-pity and into broader realizations.]

She sounds, by turns, like Sarah McLaughlin, like Sara Bareilles, like Aimee Mann — but with a dusty-booted kick in the pants. The Mann mention, more than anything, represents a tip of the hat to Dreis’ growing command of her own lyrical craft, just a matter of years after turning her attentions from classical to mainstream music.

Ultimately, the violin takes a backseat to all of this, often providing more thoughtful shadings than serving as something that completely redefines the songs — at least until the album-closing “Trapeze,” a quietly effective duet with James David Carter.

By then, though, it’s already become clear that Dreis is more pop classicist than Americana fiddler, and that very approachability sets her up for the broadest kind of success. Or, put another way, this lady’s rocket could go very high, indeed.

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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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