Review: 'The Maze' could be a breakthrough for Ariana Gillis

Ariana Gillis, "The Maze" (Ariana Gillis)

Ariana Gillis doesn't linger on the lyrics when she starts to sing on "The Maze," her staccato alto suggesting a young artist in a hurry to share her considerable skills.

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In truth, Gillis has seemed destined for stardom since 2009, when she began winning music awards in her native Canada. She has been touted by Nashville's great talent scout, Buddy Miller, and by Bernie Taupin, whose own precocious gifts as a twentysomething lyricist are newly celebrated in the movie "Rocketman."

Perhaps "The Maze" will be the breakout Gillis deserves. Independently released, the 11-song set showcases her bold, bracing vocals and excellent songwriting.

Miller co-produced, leaving only light fingerprints on music that includes banjo and pedal steel but also squawky sax. Gillis rocks a bit and has a lovely way with a ballad. Call it Canadian Americana.

The maze is life, and Gillis sings about loss and loneliness and liberation, all with a female touch. She follows a breakup song with a makeup song about actual makeup ("White Blush"). Three tunes reference her hair. Gillis shows a knack for storytelling on the sad but superb tale of tragedy "Jeremy Woodstock," saving a key revelation for the third verse and leaving the worst to the imagination.

The closing "Dream Street" is an admission of ambition. "I'm going to Dream Street, be a star. Somehow I'll get there," Gillis sings. "The Maze" may be the ticket.

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