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Hunter Hayes

The 21 Project – 2015 (Atlantic Nashville)

Reviewed by Dan MacIntosh

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CDs by Hunter Hayes

It's impossible to not be impressed with the variety Hunter Hayes has packed in his brief, seven-song "The 21 Project." The diminutive singer/songwriter proves himself to be the master of multiple song styles - even with such a short project. Each song is presented three times (studio, acoustic and live).

Perhaps Hayes' greatest lyrical character trait is empathy, which he reveals again with "Where It All Begins," a track he both wrote and recorded with superstar vocal trio Lady Antebellum. Just as he exemplified with "Invisible" off of 2014's "Storyline," Hayes once again reaches out to those that may feel like they've been mistreated, or, at the very least, misunderstood. Whereas "Invisible" meets the troubled one the dark place where they live, "Where It All Begins" offers up the chance to proverbially dust one's self off and press on.

The project's title track is about as close as the relatively clean-cut artist has gotten to a drinking song; 21 is - after all - the drinking age. However, Hayes doesn't name-drop alcoholic brands with it, but celebrates good clean fun, instead. With "Saint or a Sinner," Hayes paints the picture of a god that loves all, saint or sinner, good or bad.

Hayes' best song of the bunch, however, is a one he co-wrote with Lori McKenna. It sounds like a classic country song. He begins by reminding us that the trouble with time is that you can't rewind it, and then goes on to summarize the troubles found among many common human circumstances. He also finds that love causes many 'troubles,' only to come to the conclusion that he has no trouble with love. Even with all its side effects, love is always and forever worth the trouble.

By presenting each song in three different variations, Hayes is able test the strength of his songs. And it makes a touching song like "The Trouble with Love," presented acoustically, only stronger when stripped down to its essential elements. This example, and others, leaves "The 21 Project" one successful trifecta.