Even in the shadow of the progressive/eclectic Austin-area music scene, it can be hard for a young artist with an acoustic guitar and a touch of twang in their voice to escape the expectation that they should be a country artist, alt- or otherwise. But singer-songwriter Haley Cole bucks the expectation even if she embraces certain shades of it — the rootsy textures of fiddle and steel guitar, the touches of faith and vulnerability that shine through in her lyrics — as part of a record that takes chances and defies easy classification. She’s not as far out on the alt-rock limb as Kate Bush or Tori Amos, to give a couple veteran examples, but she’s a big step further in that direction than most of her peers (female or male) would be comfortable with. Aided invaluably by the flexible production skills of David Beck, she’s willing to dip deep into sonic swirls that match the darker sentiments of “Ghosts” or “Illusions,” her assertive vocals anchoring tunes that might otherwise spiral out into the ether. Cole sounds even more at home (and down-home, for what it’s worth) when more traditional influences come to the forefront, such as the torchy “Jaded” and the brisk fiddle lament “Runaway.” Following the recent mini-trend of keeping things around EP-length at a tight seven songs, Cole and company pack in a lot of ideas onto Illusions without wasting any space. — MIKE ETHAN MESSICK

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