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Hunter Hayes

Encore (deluxe) – 2013 (Atlantic)

Reviewed by Dustin Blumhagen

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CDs by Hunter Hayes

Hunter Hayes rereleased his debut self-titled album with a few additional tracks and three rerecorded ones. In any other genre of music, the new songs would have simply been released as an EP, but for some inexplicable reason, country music seems to be reluctant to embrace that form. The 800,000 fans who already own the original may find it irritating to pay full price for 5 new songs. People who have not warmed up to Hayes maple syrup smooth voice and decidedly pop version of country probably won't find anything redeeming. Those who are already fans or have been sitting on the fence may enjoy "Encore."

Hayes hits from the past couple of years are included as part of the original album (Storm Warning, Wanted, Somebody's Heartache) and a couple of the previous releases are recorded as duets (Everybody's Got Somebody But Me featuring Jason Mraz and What You Gonna Do with Ashley Monroe). Both songs are drastically improved from the originals; the wonderful guest voices really emphasize Hayes limits. They help to break the monotony of the album, which occasionally seems like elevator music. The new tracks don't stand out, which is a good thing. Despite the obvious irritating marketing ploy, there is no noticeable shift from the original content and the new songs when listening.

It is easy to see why he has been successful; his Rascal Flatts vocals mixed with flourishes of Keith Urban seem custom created with the charts in mind. He is at the opposite end of the mainstream country spectrum from guys like Jamey Johnson, who are radio friendly enough to get airplay, but still concerned with authenticity and history.

There is nothing really wrong with Hayes' delivery if you like that style of music, but it does tend to blend into itself with 17 songs of similar sound and tempo. Sometimes he veers more to '80s power ballad, sometimes he steps things up a little bit, but it never really seems like he attempts to leave his safe zone. Maybe that can be credited to a young artist stepping carefully. It took Taylor Swift a few albums to begin stretching her creative wings too.