Thirty-seven-year-old Walker Hayes has certainly lived the grind of the music industry. Hailing from Mobile, Alabama, Hayes and his wife moved to Nashville in the mid-2000s with an eye to establishing a career in country music. What followed can best be described as patchy. Hayes landed a job as an in-house songwriter with a major-label imprint, only to find himself dropped from the roster before being picked by another of that label’s brands. 2011 saw Hayes release his first album, Reason to Rhyme, which flew under the radar, and now, six years after that début release and another label switch, Hayes releases his second record, boom.
As an album boom. represents an interesting intersection between pop and country music, offering up a sonic amalgam that feels simultaneously spontaneous and authentic, and cold and calculated. Throw into the mix a minor hip-hop influence, courtesy of vocal syncopations and lyrics that are occasionally not-quite-rapped and not-quite-spoken-word, and you have a witch’s brew that seems all but destined to claw its way to the top. Yet the overall effect is underwhelming, as on opening track Beautiful, which sees the intrigue from its stylistically blended opening quickly fade into the kind of repetitious tedium that mars the most mundane and unexceptional pop and country.
Nicolle Galyon, another Nashville based songwriter-for-hire, features on Halloween, with her vocals working nicely with Hayes’, although neither singer has the kind of characterful or powerful voice that demands instant recognition and accolades. Lead single You Broke Up with Me attempts to bolster Hayes’ vocals through layering, but the effect is sadly lacklustre, although the songs features a few amusing turns of phrase – “get my forget you on”, “you made your bed and didn’t want me in it” – to yield some points of interest.
Songs like Shut Up Kenny and Beckett provide glimpses of some lyrical dexterity from Hayes. It’s enough to explain why he has worked as a songwriter for others, but it doesn’t go beyond that, perhaps explaining why songwriting isn’t his only job. Overall boom. consistently delivers a disconcertingly perfect blend of pop and country, yet it never succeeds in captivating the listener. Hayes’ sound may very well be the next big thing in pop and country, but he won’t be the one to bring it to the masses.