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Hunter Hayes

Storyline – 2014 (Atlantic)

Reviewed by Jeffrey B. Remz

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CDs by Hunter Hayes

A few things changed since Hunter Hayes debuted in 2011, but the bottom line remains the same - Hayes has a syrupy smooth and sweet voice, but there's not a tremendous amount of depth there to his feel good material. Hayes struck it rich the first time out on his major label debut garnering 3 top 10 songs including "I Want Crazy." The Louisiana native also was a one-man band playing and singing all parts.

That's not the case this time as he ceded CO-directorial control to Dann Huff. Good choice because Huff's proclivity towards pop with a tiny dose of country thrown in works quite well. Huff was smart to let Hayes' voice be at the fore time and again. It's light, airy and sounds nice with a bit of soulful direction ("Nothing Like Starting Over"), but there's generally not a tremendous amount of grit and passion behind it either. He fits right in with Rascal Flatts' Gary LeVox. No surprise there as Huff also produces Rascal Flatts.

While songs evoking country are extremely few and far in between throughout the 14 songs (the nicely done "When Did You Stop Loving Me" may be the exception although that, too, eventually rocks thanks to guitar work) Hayes does make a worthy stand in being a voice for the "Invisible" in the hit single of the same name - "never be afraid of doing something different/Dare to be something more." He rocks pretty well on "You Think You Know Somebody." On "Flashlight," Hayes offers a life filled with spirituality and hope with the flashlight (presumably a higher power) pointing the way to better times.

Here, as elsewhere, Keith Urban stands as a ready reference point for Hayes. A lot of the songs sound like something out of Urban's playbook, although Hayes never approaches the guitar slaying of Urban except maybe on the next to last song "If It's Just Me."

Hayes comes off as a very good vocalist, a rather inoffensive soul who has his pulse on what may work commercially. That probably is one thing about Hayes, which has not changed.