Walker Hayes, boom. | Album Review
Alabama country musician Walker Hayes serves up his intriguing, quirky brand of country music on his highly-anticipated album, ‘boom.’
Walker Hayes is not your household name. Nonetheless, the 37-year-old Alabaman country singer/songwriter has experienced moderate success. Perhaps his sophomore album, boom., will give the former Costco worker and father of six booming success. There’s lots to like about Hayes and of course, boom.
From the onset, it’s clear that Walker Hayes has a unique, slightly different approach to country music. The sound has country sensibilities, but he’s not content to simply stay within the confines of country music. Opener “Beautiful” highlights Hayes’ uniqueness, featuring unexpected sounds: percussion and a light, flute-like synth. Initially a bit off-putting, it plays out more magically with successive listens. “Beautiful” feels unified by the chorus, which is simple, but catchy. The breezy natures of the vocals here is among the selling points of the song overall.
“Shut Up Kenny” is a great, ‘left of center’ title for a song, particularly a country song. In this case, Hayes has his musical idol, Kenny Chesney in mind. It would seem, given the title, that Hayes is anti-Chesney. No sir. He’s onboard with country music vet through and through, and it makes for an interesting listen. “Kenny” has its share of country music cues, yet it also has some pop sensibilities. Overall, the production work is tasty. Hayes ‘talks’ (spoken word) during the verses. Initially, it’s odd. Ultimately, this approach is somewhat off-putting, off-kilter, yet rhythmic and unique. The chorus is incredibly catchy and irresistible.
“You Broke Up with Me”
Hayes exhibits tons of charm on “You Broke Up with Me.” Both tongue-n-cheek and novel, it offers a great glimpse at Hayes’ personality. Furthermore, it’s incredibly groovy. The vocals are crisp and clear. The melody is light and rhythmic, which is definitely a selling point. The chorus is the crème de la crème. While it’s poised as a love song of sorts, Hayes has stated that it also deals with his relationship with Nashville. Boom.
“Halloween,” featuring Nicolle Galyon, commences with an infectious groove. Adding to the goodness of the hard-hitting groove is whistling, that’s just ‘cool’ AF. Adding to the coolness of Hayes is his quasi-rapping on the verses. He’s rhythmic and while you might not say he has ‘bars’ per se, this approach is definitely interesting and intriguing if nothing else. Galyon performs the chorus, plying the role of the guest ‘urban contemporary’ singer on Hayes’ hip-hop song. Hayes sings on the bridge, later joining forces with Galyon.
“Dollar Store” is filled with quirkiness, swagger, and perhaps most of all, pop…or maybe hip-hop. This is a perfect example of Hayes’ new brand of country that doesn’t appeal to traditionalists, but rather those willing to truly blur the lines. For most, there’s not much middle ground – this is a ‘love it or hate it’ type. The chorus is infectious, as is the groove.
Walker Hayes showcases more seriousness on brief, standout ballad “Beer in the Fridge.” There’s more substance than the title might suggests. His lyrical honesty is a big selling point. On the first verse, he makes reference to his ex’s mom, which leads to the central theme of the song: Loss due to consequences. Ex, drinking problem, still wants to get drunk because of losing her… Naturally, the second verse continues to build the narrative, referencing the police, drunken driving, and “playing Russian Roulette.”
“Beckett” is about Hayes’ young son, Beckett. Hayes describes his innocence and the beauty and simplicity of young life. The light, breezy, pop-oriented sound works particularly well here. “Mind Candy” continues the lighthearted nature of boom., but digs in a bit more into country music. Still, the vocals are incredibly agile and rhythmic, while the backing vocals sound more pop-soul than country. His uniqueness has intrigue, even if Hayes has a different approach.
The groove is absolutely sick on “Prescriptions,” which is hip-hop, urban-pop through and through. This is new-country cranked up to the nth degree, IF you even consider this country music at this point. As a pop song, it’s compelling. For the country music fan, the perception will likely be meh. Even Hayes’ profanity pushes the envelope for country music, where more than an ass, damn, or hell raises an eyebrow. Hayes concludes boom. With “Craig.” For all the skepticism of how to characterize Hayes stylistically, Hayes has a beautiful, mellow, and smooth voice. Sure, he half-raps here, but there’s a ‘cool’ about Hayes, not to mention his honesty about his life.
What’s the verdict on boom.? Walker Hayes definitely sets himself apart from the crowd with what is essentially his ‘debut’ album. He proves he is a clever, creative, left-of-center artist, regardless of genre. He’s quirky, but certainly has a lot to offer. Is he best categorized stylistically as a country music artist? That’s debatable, but with so many lines being blurred stylistically these days, he’s not so far-fetched. Boom. won’t be for everybody, but there’s lots to like.
Gems: “Shut Up Kenny,” “You Broke Up With Me,” “Halloween” & “Beer in the Fridge”
Walker Hayes • Beer in the Fridge • Monument • Release: 12.1.17
Photo Credit: Monument