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Album Spotlight: Hunter Hayes, ‘Storyline’ – ToC Critic’s Pick

Storyline
Warner Music Nashville

The beauty of Hunter Hayes’ new ‘Storyline’ album is in what it’s lacking. There are few if any lyrical hooks to find yourself tweezing out days later. The production is appropriate, and at times heavy. But the arrangements are never protecting a weak lyric or uninspired vocal performance.

And there’s little diversity. Almost all of the 14 songs (12 if you remove the two segues) are love songs or lost-love songs. So how exactly did this 22-year-old turn in what will be one of the pivotal albums of the decade, a project that launches Hayes to superstardom?

He dared to be different, but wasn’t hell-bent on making a statement. ‘Storyline’ is a mature, unimposing collection of tracks pulled from the singer’s (apparently) scarred heart. There’s no chest-thumping, an absolutely no gimmicks. He’s not a slave to rhymes, only melody … and his guitar.

Comparisons to Keith Urban will only escalate after fans get through listening to this album. The singer shreds on songs like ‘You Think You Know Somebody.’ Yes, it might be a studio cat taking those solos, but Hayes does it himself here so we’ll give him the benefit of the doubt.

His young female fans won’t care about that however. For them he offers deeply satisfying, creative lyrics like “You and I / Fall as hard as we want / Build a story all our own and blow Shakespeare’s mind,” in the title-track and “I still reach for your hand because I need it / And your kiss is still the spark that lights a fire” on ’Still Fallin’.’ No, those words don’t pop off the computer screen, but listen to both songs and you’ll see.

‘Tattoo’ is a dip before ‘Invisible,’ which sounds much more personal, and feels much more powerful than it ever did on the radio. Great albums have great songs, and this — along with ‘You Think You Know Somebody’ — is a great song.

‘Flashlight’ is another strong performance that takes Hayes in a yet-unheard direction. A chorus of gospel singers back him during a song that can be interpreted a dozen different ways. Immediately after this high he delivers the softest vocal on ‘When Did You Stop Loving Me.’

Hayes is the most confident and most humble man in Nashville. One imagines him going over each detail a dozen times, painstakingly criticizing himself, before hesitantly giving final approval, and it works. Like Kenny Chesney‘s ‘No Shoes No Shirt No Problems’ and Urban’s ‘Golden Road,’ ‘Storyline’ is an album that will take the lid off of this singer’s potential.

Key Tracks: ‘Wild Card,’ ‘Invisible,’ ‘You Think You Know Somebody,’ ‘Flashlight’

Another DIY Album: Hayes didn’t play everything on ‘Storyline,’ but he did a lot of the work. One collaborator that stands out is Paul Franklin, who plays pedal steel. He also lets his touring band play on this album.

Did You Know?: Hayes had over 60 songs written for this album before he finally felt comfortable narrowing it to 14.

Everything You Need to Know About ‘Storyline’ in 30 Seconds

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