Taking one look at the album cover, it’d be easy to pass off Hunter Hayes as some Nashville music executive’s idea of a countrified Justin Bieber-like ‘clone’ yet if you actually take a listen to Hunter Hayes’s music and see him perform live, you realize what we have here is a talented young artist (who looks years younger than his actual age of 20 years old). Hunter not only co-wrote every song on the album but he played every note of every instrument (24 instruments!) and co-produced the album with Dann Huff. Not even Bieber can claim to be that prolific. Quite simply, Hunter Hayes is not only gifted with cute matinee idol looks but also the talent to get guys to go to the shows and buy the CDs with the screaming teens and tweens. He’s. That. Good.
Hunter’s eponymous debut album starts off with the rising lead single “Storm Warning” and it was a smart choice to get people in the mood to listen to the rest of the tracks. It’s a strong tune that shows off the musicality that hunter possesses along with a soaring tenor voice that has one wondering how all these people from Louisiana and Mississippi can have such soulful voices. “Wanted” comes up next on the track-list and it’s a definite contender to be the #2 single from the album and the lyrics say something that every girl wants to hear from the guy of their dreams;
“I wanna wrap you up, wanna kiss your lips, I wanna make you feel wanted, I wanna call you mine, I wanna hold your hand forever, and never let you forget it, Yeah, I wanna make you feel wanted.”
It’s a sweetly romantic song that feels cinematic and the perfect theme song to play on the end credits of a romantic comedy film. This well-written ‘power ballad’ could cross-over to pop/rock radio and will have The Script, Train, Rascal Flatts and OneRepublic how they didn’t come up with a song like this first. In fact, there’s no way “Wanted” isn’t a hit.
The other uptempos on the record include “Love Makes Me,” “Somebody’s Heartbreak,” “Everybody’s Got Somebody But Me” and “More Than I Should” and they all have different vibes to them and explore different sides of Hunter’s musicality from the Mayer-ish adult pop groove of “Somebody’s Heartbreak” and the mainstream country tour-de-force “Love Makes Me” (the most “Rascal Flatts” Hunter Hayes gets on the record) to the blues-rock of “More Than I Should” and the playful, elastic “Everybody’s Got Somebody But Me.”
The other ballads on the record, “If You Told Me To,” “Faith To Fall Back On,” “Rainy Season,” “Cry With You,” “What You Gonna Do,” and “All You Ever” also present multiple sides to Hunter Hayes as an artist and singer. Both “Faith To Fall Back On” and “If You Told Me To” feel like mainstream country staples with interesting Keith Urban-like intersections where the guitar gets room to breathe behind the vocals while the soulful “Rainy Season” may very well be the best song on the record after “Wanted.” The Vince Gill-like guitar moans along with the sadness of the lyric, conveying the emotion felt in Hunter’s vocal while “Cry With You” hits all the power chords and notes. “What You Gonna Do” mixes in programming with acoustics to tell a story of a guy who asks his partner “who’s gonna love you when you’re all alone, tell me what you gonna do when I’m gone?.” “All You Ever” rounds out the record with a power ballad of regret that is a stock contemporary country theme but it works well as an epic closing track to a fantastic debut album.
The writer or co-writer of every track of this debut record and also the only musician to play on it (along with co-producing the project with Dann Huff), Hunter Hayes certainly has stepped out on an island with Hunter Hayes, the album. It’s either going to be sink-or-swim for Hayes and like many of the artists mentioned above, Hunter Hayes has more talent in his thumb than many other ‘hit artists’ have in their whole bodies. His is a deep well of talent to draw from and despite how consistent and strong Hunter Hayes is, it really only feels like the beginning of a superstar career for an artist who is able to rise above looking like the next matinee idol on the cover of this record.
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review originally published October 7, 2011.