The road to success has been a long one for Walker Hayes. Like many trying to break into the music industry, Hayes had his fair share of knocks before finally getting his big break. He moved to Nashville in 2005 with his wife to get into Country music and after a record deal fell through it looked like he was on the up with the release of his 2011 debut Reason to Rhyme. Following the album’s release, Hayes lost his deal but kept plugging away at his music until he caught the eye of songwriter and producer Shane McAnally, who signed him and released two EPs. The partnership between the two has proven fruitful with Hayes experiencing his breakthrough hit this year with You Broke Up With Me.
Following the success of that song, which recently went Gold in the US, Hayes is releasing his new album boom. A far cry from the style of music he recorded on his 2011 debut, Hayes has reinvented himself coming up with a unique sound that easily marks him out from the pack. On the first listen of boom. you’d be forgiven for thinking the album is a bright and breezy pop record. It takes a few listens to get under its skin but once you do, it’s incredibly addictive.
Sam Hunt may have started the spoken-word R&B/pop style Country that has dominated the genre for the last couple of years but Hayes is looking likely to start a brand new trend. All of the songs on boom. are distinctly Country if you strip back the production and the way the vocals are delivered in parts of the tracks. Hayes’ voice also has an endearing drawl that naturally puts him onto the genre. What he brings to the table though is a fusion of sounds unlike anything you’ve hear before. He beatboxes, he speak-raps, he mixes various genres into one and he’s an incredibly gifted lyricist.
Lead single You Broke Up With Me might sound like a cheerful ditty but it’s actually an exploration of Hayes’ rollercoaster relationship with the music scene in Nashville. The lyrics have a sarcastic bite and they are mightily impressive. When you hear him play the song acoustic, the message really hits home.
Over the course of boom. Hayes lays his life story bare and he admitted during our interview recently that he finds some of the songs hard to sing live. One of those is album closer Craig, which tells the story of a man who gave Hayes and his family one of his cars when they fell upon hard times. I welled up just listening to the lyrics so heaven only knows how Hayes manages to sing it live at all. On Beer in the Fridge Hayes addresses his past personal issues singing about giving up alcohol and admitting that there are parts of his life he can’t remember and some he can’t forget. It’s heart-breaking stuff.
Elsewhere on the record Hayes places his tongue in his cheek for Shut Up Kenny, a song that sees him struggling to listen to Kenny Chesney music thanks to the personal associations he has with it. On Halloween, featuring Nicolle Galyon, Hayes pays tribute to his wife expressing relief that he’s found someone that can deal with his personal baggage and love him. One of the sweetest moments comes on Beckett, a song about Hayes’ son where he ponders what it would be like to be young and carefree once again.
There’s a good chance that if you only give boom. a couple of listens, you’re not going to get the record. That’s not me trying to be pretentious, that’s me acknowledging that it took me a few listens through. Once you unpack the lyrics and listen to the stories Hayes tells, you realise this record is something incredibly special and a bit rare. It’s an accomplished body of work by someone who has been to hell and back, and made it out the other end. Now Hayes can finally reap the rewards of his hard work and he’s about to become a huge star, who could change the definition of modern Country.
Track listing: 1. Beautiful 2. Shut Up Kenny 3. You Broke Up With Me 4. Halloween (feat Nicolle Galyon) 5. Dollar Store 6. Beer in the Fridge 7. Beckett 8. Mind Candy 9. Prescriptions 10. Craig Record label: Sony Music Release date: 8th December 2017