This is one of the toughest reviews I’ve ever had to write.
This guy makes Florida Georgia Line sound like a Brooks & Dunn tribute act. Having listened to Walker Hayes’ new album ‘boom.’ on multiple occasions, I’m desperately trying to convince myself that this is, in any way, shape or form, a country record. No luck. If you’re not familiar with Nashville’s latest breakout act, Walker is the poster boy for Shane McAnally’s new publishing and production venture, SMACKSongs, and is finally hitting the heights after the poor performance of ‘Reason To Rhyme’ back in 2011 and subsequent separation from Capitol Records.
It’s been a long road for Walker, but his ‘8 Tracks Vol.1 and Vol. 2’ last year raised a few eyebrows once again. After being named one of Rolling Stone’s 2017 ‘Country Artists to Watch’, ‘You Broke Up With Me’, the lead single from the new project, is fast approaching the top 10 and it seems a corner has been turned in Walker’s career.
It’s an undeniably infectious album, regardless of which genre it falls into. It’s a traditionalist’s nightmare and will thrive on the success of ‘Body Like A Back Road’ in abundance. Walker has a very distinct style; very limited instrumentation, lots of whistling, finger clicking and catchy choruses. Think Sam Hunt meets early Jason Mraz. The strangest aspect of Walker’s material is the subject matter; do we really need to hear a 37-year-old with 7 kids (soon to be 8) singing “Ain’t nobody makin’ you watch me get my forget you on”? I thought Luke Bryan fantasising over his phone lighting up was bad enough, but this is a whole other level…
Having said that, it’s no surprise to see ‘You Broke Up With Me’ racing up the charts. Production-wise, it’s another master stroke from Shane McAnally who, in all honesty, has made a very average song come to life with such ease. If you love the lead single, expect much more of the same from the album. After 2 full listens, you’ll know every track like it’s been around for ages and there are a few that won’t get out of your head for days. ‘Mind Candy’ is one of those. Co-written with Thomas Archer, it’s lyrical and musical simplicity at its finest with all the ingredients for a massive hit. A bopping melody that’ll have you bouncing along and singing along to the hook – “mind candy, my mind candy..” – you’ll know what I mean!
‘Shut Up Kenny’, written with Pete Good and AJ Babcock, is a really interesting one and could well be a future single. Walker reminisces on a past love, where Kenny Chesney songs on the radio were the soundtrack to the relationship. The very direct line “Shut Up Kenny” is the desperation to escape from those memories. I’d love to hear Kenny’s thoughts on it! Probably the most Sam Hunt-esque offering on the record, it’s destined to be a fan favourite and the crossover appeal is massive.
‘Halloween’, featuring prolific songwriter Nicolle Galyon, is another highlight. Heavily soul/R&B influenced, it dives into Walker’s insecure years when it was “October 31st every day” trying to be somebody else. Of course, it’s got the quirky writing approach but it’s a song with good depth and emotion that stands out from the pack.
My concern with the album is that Walker may have missed the boat when it comes to the genre-defying style which he takes to the extreme. As we saw at the CMA Awards, there’s once again a craving for real, hearty country and quality song writing. Whether the community will welcome Walker Hayes with open arms, only time will tell. I once interviewed Phil Vassar who stressed the importance of releasing timeless songs that still work just as well 20 years after release, which is spot on. Applying that to Walker Hayes, you have to wonder about the longevity of his career. It works now, but realistically will any of these tracks stand the test of time?