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Walker Hayes

Boom – 2017 (Monument/Sony)

Reviewed by Dan MacIntosh

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CDs by Walker Hayes

Walker Hayes has a lot of Sam Hunt in his music, in that he mixes a lot of hip-hop in with his country. Traditionalists will have trouble with his unorthodox approach. Kids, though, raised on just as much Drake as Paisley, will likely eat it up. A few years back, it was Lynyrd Skynyrd and Allman Brothers (mixed with a touch of AC/DC) influencing country sounds. It only makes sense rap and R&B are now impacting country recordings. But also like Hunt, there's good to be found in Haye's stylistic deviations.

One called "Shut Up Kenny," with its stripped-down reggae-ish groove, is a love/hate song to Kenny Chesney. "Why you gotta sound just like she felt?" Walker asks/complains. However, it's "Beer in The Fridge," the album's sparse ballad, that will chill you to the bone. This solitary beer represents his moral dilemma. "You're the reason I quit drinking/And the reason I wanna get drunk," he confesses. He also has more potential access to this beverage, than he does to his lost love. "It's gonna be there in the morning/Even though you won't." In a strange way, it's a contemporary continuation of Webb Pierce's "There Stands the Glass." Beer is an essential character in this song, just like the girl. Country music has always given alcohol mystical superpowers, both for good and for evil. Drinking will change a person, it's true, but there are also consequences. The album closes with "Craig," a song about how one special man that made Hayes feel welcome at church. This Craig exemplified to Hayes how love is a verb, not just an adjective. The church - and the world, for that matter - could sure use a few more Craigs.

Hayes does more country artist name-dropping, than actual country singing on his album. The lightly funky "Mind Candy," for example, mentions Willie Nelson and his song "You Were Always on My Mind" to help describe his obsession with a girl. This means "Boom" is more inspired by country music culture, than containing actual country sounds. At its best, though, it exemplifies some of the best country music values.