In less than three years, Hunter Hayes has gone from the adorable boy-next-door to the leading man. From his self-titled Atlantic Records debut to his far more mature sophomore effort Storyline, this singer-songwriter has allowed the music to lead the way, ultimately evolving into a romantic, inspiring storyteller. Whether he’s tackling bullying (“Invisible”) or the complicated thing called love (“Tattoo,” “Secret Love”), Hayes precisely targets the heart of the matter.
Throughout the 14 tracks, his musicianship, too, reaches dizzying, and at times impressive, heights. He rises and falls with each guitar lick, blazing right out of the gate with the album’s sweet opener “Wild Card.” The electric song sets the overall tone for the project, which is a cool blend of old school relatability and youthful glow. Spinning his web of modernisms, Hayes has mastered the art of pushing the genre forward, without compromising country’s rich history. Through the next several cuts (“Storyline,” “Still Fallin,” “Tattoo”), the singer rips through the emotional tales with ease, incorporating distinct steel guitar arrangements, harkening to Vince Gill and early Keith Urban. The last song, especially, is a pleasant alternative to the typical party and dirt road trend; romantically constructed narratives are what set Hayes apart from the pack.
Further on Storyline, the rising star dabbles in heartbreak in a more progressive way (compared to his first record), especially on “When Did You Stop Loving Me” and “Nothing Like Starting Over.” In his delivery, there is still, however, an optimistic shimmer. The lilt of his voice deceives him, only adding to the charm of the performances. His heart might be shattered in a million pieces, but he’s wise enough to know how to move on and put his life back together. He’s certainly no Humpty Dumpty here. The latter song “hits like a ton of bricks” on the tear ducts and is one of the album’s prime moments.
Hayes commands a gripping storyline throughout the album, culminating on the brooding closer “Love Too Much.” As far as ballads go, this is one of his finest to-date. His bubbling rise to well-versed storyteller is only surpassed by his phrasing and interpretations. He speaks from personal experience and that is retold over and over again on each of the set’s 14 songs. He’s only one No. 1 hit away from being the next superstar, surpassing that of Luke Bryan and Blake Shelton.
Must-Listen Tracks: “Nothing Like Starting Over,” “Tattoo,” “Love Too Much
Photo Credit: CMA Press