When you make music which melds confessional storytelling with sounds and rhythms that aren't typical for the genre from which its housed, it's easy to dismiss Walker Hayes as the kind of artist who is 'ruining' that genre's music. Except, he's really not. In fact, with his 10 track album boom., Walker Hayes is proving why the genre is so viable and important. That genre, country music, has always played off of the sounds of other genres and while there are sounds which are hallmarks of country music, the core of the genre's strength has been the words, the lyrics, the stories told. And Walker Hayes, well, his stories are very much ripped from his life. Married to sounds and production which pushes the genre in new directions, Walker Hayes is helping to keep country music vibrant and unique and keeping storytelling at the forefront. Go check out my review of boom. for Roughstock for more of an expanded look into why the album is such a success, even as it pokes and prods the traditionalists out there genuflecting the end of their favorite genre.
Look, for as much as I personally love the sound of songs like those from the late Daryle Singletary, from the critically-acclaimed singers like Margo Price and Ashley Monroe and even the mainstream country veterans like Alan Jackson, I also really enjoy the outliers like Eric Church, Home Free, Colt Ford, Thomas Rhett and Walker Hayes. There's room for a lot in the melting pot of country music and the diversity that all of these artists share showcase why Walker Hayes is important.
Look beyond the spoken verses and production sounds. L-I-S-T-E-N to the lyrics (or read them on the CD booklet or some lyrical archive). What you see are songs like the soon to be released "Craig." A self-written, sparsely-produced track, "Craig" closes out boom. and showcases the raw, real lyrics that are the hallmark of country music. The song talks about how this man from Walker Hayes' church believed in him when he didn't always believe in himself. It talks about the pitfalls of a man who struggled after the loss of a job (his record deal) and lost the family van and how it was tough to be a family man with a small car. It talks about how Craig noticed the struggles and, paying it forward, he and his wife found and gave Walker Hayes a vehicle which really helps his family out. This song honestly pulls something from Walker Hayes' life and makes it real and relatable to anyone who has ever gone through something like that (either themselves or someone they know).
Real and Relatable.
That's country music.
So while it may be a risk to release something so different from the typical radio fare, the reality is that the boom. album, and Walker Hayes himself, are not typical radio fare. And that's exactly why releasing "Craig" is a risk worth taking. This is a song that needs to be heard, especially in these divisive times we live in. We NEED stories about people like "Craig" out there. We need stories told like this in country music, particularly when we have songs that still mostly serve as nothing but background noise. Country's long been the story of the word (and has had spoken word verses as long as the genre has been around) and when an artist like Walker Hayes comes along and says something as honest and as real as "Craig," we should be championing the song and the artist, and that's what I'll continue to do here.