Hayley Reardon – Where the Artists Go (review)

Hayley Reardon – Where the Artists Go (Kingswood Records) review

Hayley Reardon is an amazingly talented 16-year old.  Which means, she probably spends as much time talking about her age as she does her music.  Which is a shame.  While her age might seem like a novelty, one listen to her music and none of that matters.  She’s released a couple of EP’s, but Where the Artists Go is her first full-length album, featuring eleven songs all written by her.

The thing is – she may be young, but she doesn’t sound it.  There’s a soulful quality to her voice, especially when she sings in the lower register, as in “Seattle.”  Yet, her voice gives off a hint of twang when she’s hitting high notes, as in “Change.”   She has a beautiful falsetto which shows up in “Tribe.”  Sometimes, she hits all these elements in a single song.

One of the pitfalls of most young performers is that they try and tackle adult themes in their songs and end up sounding silly.  Reardon succeeds because she writes about what she knows – whether she’s dreaming of the future: “someday I’m gonna marry a boy like you” (“Addicted to Conviction”) or  “maybe these dreams are too big for a girl like me“ (“Music”), or journal writing: “I’ll never know myself like my scribbles seem to know me” (“Scribbles”), it all comes from her world.  Yet, she does it so eloquently, that it ends up sounding very much adult.

Reardon has become a spokesperson for pacer.org, and their anti-bullying campaign.  She’s traveled the country, giving speeches and playing her songs in schools.  The album’s first single, “Tribe,” tackles the social awkwardness of trying to fit in.  The gentle ballad actually offers positive advice: “and when the voices multiply and crowd around her / promise me that she’s gonna sing a little louder.”

The record was produced by Lorne Entress, who does a tremendous job of wrapping Reardon’s songs in a warm, earthy sound.  Piano and acoustic guitars give a real “lived-in” quality, while the drums help to gently propel these tracks along.  There’s also a few surprises that add to the diversity of her record.  She teams with Jamaican reggae star P-Zed on the aforementioned “Music” – it’s amazing how well their two voices blend together.  She also enlists slam poet Sterling Higa to read a few lines to “Addicted to Conviction.”

Reardon has been grouped into the “folk” circuit, but if there’s one thing that Where the Artists Go makes perfectly clear – it’s that she’s got a future in more mainstream (dare I say pop?) music.  An excellent example of this is the final track on the album, “Goodbye Song,” which churns along with acoustic guitar, augmented by some great dobro work and accordion.  It’s probably the lightest subject matter on the whole album, yet the melody and her effortless delivery elevates this to the finest song on the album.

And kudos to Reardon for creating a very clever CD package that resembles a girl’s journal, complete with scribbled lyrics, photos, and stories behind some of the songs.  In this age of Itunes, it’s nice to have an excuse to actually get the physical disc.

Reardon’s growth over the last few years has been great to watch.  At 16, she’s developed skills that have surpassed artists twice her age.  Which means, the sky’s the limit for Hayley Reardon.  –Tony Peters