There's a space between dreaming and waking, a space rife with revelatory moments that can be fleeting, but still have a great impact. With The Hollow of Morning, Gemma Hayes has created an ideal soundtrack for that space, with a sound that's at once ethereal and earthy and a spirit that's unmistakably distinctive. "I see the album as having a slightly unreal, misty feeling," says the Irish-born singer-songwriter. "It doesn't ever reach ground, but sort of hovers just above. It's very much an early morning thing -- that time when you haven't yet opened your eyes, and you're at peace with your own soul." The Hollow of Morning provides a crystal-clear look into Hayes' soul. With the help of a group of collaborators including My Bloody Valentine legend Kevin Shields and Bell X1 frontman Paul Noonan - who returns to his original role as a drummer here - she flits gracefully between buoyant simplicity and barely-controlled bedlam. The former aspect is captured with pristine precision on the hushed opener "This Is What You Do," which finds Hayes breathily searching for "order in the chaos," a quest she later flips, seeking "chaos in the order." "Sometimes chaos is very appealing to me, and sometimes stillness is what I crave," says Hayes. "They're both valid, different means of expression. Sometimes female artists can get locked into the 'oh, what a pretty voice you have' pigeonhole, and I suppose I've made an effort not to. That's why there are times where I just use my voice as an instrument and make it all about the noise." She takes that approach on some of the more riveting tracks on The Hollow of Morning, notably the dizzying "Out of Our Hands" -- on which her voice surfs waves of see-sawing guitar -- and "In Over My Head," a veritable symphony of layered vocal lines. Both stand in contrast to the naked acoustic vibe of her earlier work, which earned comparisons to artists like Joni Mitchell and Harvest-era Neil Young. "A lot of things have changed for me over the past few years - what drives me really changed," she offers. "My ambition, my drive to succeed, all that completely disappeared and all that was left was the love of music. The way I look at the album is that it doesn't try to do anything, it just is." The Tiperrary native's ability to draw a bead on the hearts and heads of listeners was evident from the beginning of her recording career, as borne out by the fact that her first full-length album, the fulsome Night on My Side, was nominated for the prestigious Mercury Music Prize in 2002. But even though the disc received almost universal acclaim, the singer felt a sense of dislocation, a notion that she had taken a step or two down a path that would separate her from her muse - so she walked away from her burgeoning career. "Everyone figures things out at a different pace," she says of her two-year break from music. "I felt completely diluted and I didn't know exactly where I belonged. I needed to step away and get my priorities back in order - get my energy re-focused on what was really important." When she returned from that period of soul-searching, Hayes was not simply re-energized, she was positively electrified - a vibe that leapt from the grooves of her 2005 effort, The Roads Don't Love You. That album, which earned her Best Female Artist honors at Ireland's Meteor Music Awards. That outing also earned her a good deal of attention among fellow artists like Counting Crows frontman Adam Duritz, who sought her out for a writing collaboration that spawned "Hazy," a tune that appeared on the American band's New Amsterdam album. "Working with new people was something of an inspiration for this album, but mostly the inspiration came from my environment," says Hayes. "I was so tahttp://www.secondmotionrecords.com/asset/get/178ken my the place in France where I did a lot of the writing, the sights, the feel, the smells -- it all contributed to this melancholy thread that runs throughout the album. I feel like there's a fine line between joy and sorrow, and it's a line that can get blurred very easily." That's the case on several of the most compelling songs on The Hollow of Morning - notably the spiraling "At Constant Speed," a gradually-building musing on love and loss that was inspired by the death of a loved one. Hayes, who's loath to dissect her compositions in too great detail, offers that she wrote the song as part of her asking permission to move on - to say 'I still love you, but I can't have you right there every day.'" The emotional immediacy of that song is echoed throughout The Hollow of Morning, from the letter-formatted "January 14th" -- which is centered on the thoughts of a soldier on the front -- to the appropriately-titled "Sad Ol' Song" and the gentle closer "Under a Canopy." Taken together, they offer an impression of a daybreak that's warm, welcoming and anything but hollow.