Release Date: October 22nd 2021
Reviewed by: Joshua Andre
- Wild Blue
- Tell Me
- One Good Reason
- Night And Day
- If I Didn’t Care
- Dressed In Blue
- Dear God
- My Song Too
- Loving You
- One Shot
- What If I Do
One of the most inspiring, encouraging, comforting, powerful, honest and vulnerable artists I’ve heard recently, and have been impacted by recently in a profound and positive way, is country singer Hunter Hayes. I wrote a blog about Hunter a couple of years ago, and everything I wrote in that blog still stands true today. Songs like “Wanted”, “I Want Crazy”, “Light Me Up”, “Invisible”, “21”, “Where It All Begins”, “Storyline”, “Amen” and “Everybody’s Got Somebody But Me”, have all risen up to immense or relative success; and though Hunter even right now isn’t popular by any means, a conscious and active deep dive into his discography is encouraged I reckon, and then you will discover one of today’s most underrated artists ever. Rarely have I found an artist that is quite passionate about his craft and passionate about his faith in a long time; and thus ever since couple of years ago when I really started to ‘get into’ country music, Hunter Hayes is now one of my favourite artists at the moment. Back when Hunter released his latest album Wild Blue Pt 1 in 2019, I wasn’t really that much of a fan, but just a few months ago, he unveiled a deluxe edition of Wild Blue. I don’t know if this was something he had in his mind since a while ago, and Red Sky is something different. Or maybe Red Sky morphed into Wild Blue (Complete) and the official release of Red Sky (whenever that may be) will comprise of some brand-new songs from Wild Blue (Complete). Regardless, Hunter has re-released probably his most inspiring album ever, along with 6 brand new songs. And thus, I reckon it’s time for me to voice my thoughts on Hunter and his music some more, don’t you reckon?
I remember vividly when I was a kid picking up somebody to go to the airport and they said, “Off we go to the wild blue yonder.” For some reason, it’s always stuck in my head. I’m obsessed with aviation [and] with flying. It was a combination of freedom and all of my friends tell me about these flying dreams that they have when they’re going through a massive life change. And so I was manifesting everything I could to give me a flying dream…So I loved wild blue because there’s so much that that meant to me and the color blue has always been my favorite color.
What this record did for me was something pretty profound. Up until now, I haven’t written a whole lot by myself because I’m convinced that if I can’t sit down and start an idea [and] finish it, then I’m not really meant to write by myself. This was the first time I had instruments just laying around the house. In the past I had my apartment and I had my studio. I’d start allowing myself to just record bits and pieces of things. I [can’t] tell you how many things have been stitched together and totally made sense. It’s been really encouraging. I just finished a writing trip. I wrote like half of part two.
I’ve put a lot of heart and soul into this project. I wanted [this album] to be part of a bigger picture. I didn’t want to just put out an album and forget about it in two weeks. I know that there’s more of the story to tell that I haven’t figured out how to tell or lived and I don’t want to separate it. I want it to all be part of one gallery showing and I want to keep adding to the gallery because there’s so many parts that will make other parts make more sense. I’ve always wanted to do a double record or whatever and so this was my chance to say, “OK, if I’m ever going to do it and try it, see the works, this is it.”
With Wild Blue Pt 1 being Hunter’s most heartfelt album to date thus far, we are presented with a glimpse into Hunter’s psyche and what he was feeling in 2018/2019; and we are also presented with some pretty heavy stuff- reminding us all that musicians are just like people- multilayered and trying to do the bets that they can with what they’ve got. And as I listened to these 10 tracks again, as well as the 6 new tracks, I was reminded how gifted a singer and a songwriter Hunter actually was and is, and this deluxe album really reaffirmed my love for Hunter’s music. “My Song Too” has Hunter looking inwards, with the piano ballad detailing the end of a relationship, and Hunter singing to the other person telling them that he still listens to their song because it’s ‘my song too’- even though he can be bitter, Hunter isn’t, as even though the relationship didn’t turn out like the way he wanted it to, there’s still positives as it made him to the man he is today. On the flipside, “Heartbreak” has Hunter looking outwards and to the future, as he sings in this 2-minute toe-tapper to his future spouse, reminding her that he is coming and asking her to wait for him- that every other failed relationship is ‘one heartbreak closer to you’. It’s a clever way to look at heartbreak as something positive… but it’s a true concept. Heartbreak is bad if you think that that person is the One, but when you realise that God’s got someone better for you, then you can embrace the heartbreak as a learning curve for you to be better in the future- even if you may feel horrible now.
“Still” is essentially a worship song to God- again it takes guts to include this on a mainstream album that will be listened to by many, some of which won’t be believers; however Hunter’s faith is so secure that he’s not worried about backlash- instead he’s more worried about creating opportunities to share his faith- and “Still is a beautiful example of that”. “One Good Reason”, “One Shot” and “Night And Day” are other songs from Wild Blue Pt 1 that spoke to me and grabbed my attention. “One Good Reason” is a track that has Hunter saying that he has no ill-will to his ex, that he can’t find one good reason not to still love her, while “Night And Day” speaks about a potential relationship between two polar opposite people that hopefully lasts the distance. And while “One Shot” may be desensitising the act of drinking shots to have a good time; the song could also mean that ‘taking shots’ is a metaphor for taking risks and a chance at life- living life one risk and one chance at a time. “Wild Blue”, the title track, is a stirring ballad that inspires and speaks about stepping out in faith and doing something that could be seemingly ridiculous, all because you’re brave and courageous and you’re taking a risk because it makes you feel alive. But to me, there is no other song- and I repeat: no other song, to listen to from Hunter Hayes, than “Dear God”- if you all were to listen to one song from his and one song only!
Before we get to “Dear God” again, let’s dive deep into the six new tracks, shall we? “Tell Me” is an emotional heartbreaking ballad led by stirring piano, as Hunter eloquently and desperate longs to move on from his ex but doesn’t know how. This song is asking the ex how he moves on without them, and I guess this song strikes a chord for many of us who have been in failing relationships. “No”, again another song about heartbreak and heartache, is another personal song to Hunter, and obviously another emotional song for listeners too; while “If I Didn’t Care”, a country/pop piano ballad, also speaks about the journey of getting over an ex, albeit along a different point in the journey, as Hunter emotionally relays ‘…if I didn’t care, I wouldn’t be acting like you’re not there right now, if I didn’t care, I’d be taking it slow, no I wouldn’t be three drinks down, I wouldn’t be where you’re hanging out, I’d be on the other side of town, wouldn’t be pretending I don’t care, if I didn’t care, like I do…’. “Dressed In Blue” is a powerful and emotional acoustic guitar ballad, with Hunter declaring to his ex that he’ll he showing up to her wedding dressed in blue (as in sad about it, and unafraid to show his sadness at the wedding!); while “What If I Do?” speaks about the innocence of love in its purest form, with Hunter explaining to a friend or an ex or someone who he knows, that he’s fallen for her and that he didn’t expect it. It’s a song that subtly asks what we do when our plans are derailed for the better, and then the song subtly encourages us also to ride the wave and to let God take control over all of the messy parts of our lives. “Preacher”, the final new song, is sung on the precipice of a marriage proposal. While it isn’t known if it was based in reality (Hunter proposed to someone who rejected him) or if the song is based on a dream or something fictitious (something ideal that Hunter would like to happen), the reality is that everyone who proposes hopes their partner says yes. This song is the embodiment of those intense feelings and instantaneous doubts and fears wrapped up in a 3-minute palatable package.
Over the past few years I’ve been hearing a lot about prominent Christians falling away. From Marty Sampson of Hillsong and writer Joshua Harris to most recently Jonathan Steingard the lead singer of Hawk Nelson… we’re living in scary times. Even this past week, rapper Phanatik renounced his faith. Yet for me “Dear God” is like the pinnacle of all of the questions encompassing all of our doubts- wrapped up in a 3-minute song. Hunter obviously had doubts in his life. We all do as believers. And he could have easily been a casualty of cultural Christianity- of not having roots deep enough to weather any and every storm. But instead, Hunter fought for his faith and asked questions and sought to seek out the answers- no matter where it led. The result is the most vulnerable song he’s ever recorded and probably will record ever. Now I’m not saying that Marty or Joshua or Jon could have stayed close to God if they wrote a song about their struggles. No, not at all. I’m not even saying that their faith was fake to begin with. That’s a whole another can of worms to open- is Calvinism or Arminianism the right way to believe? Is that in and of itself an essential or non-essential doctrine of belief? What I am indeed saying that if you have doubts, I believe you don’t just walk away. You wrestle with them for however knows long. And you talk to God. As well as your friends and your family and your bible study life group. Even if the response isn’t what you would like to hear. Because God is speaking all the time. Through creation and miracles and through the living Word. And through people. We just have to be receptive to hear it. As for these three prominent influencers- who knows how their faith journeys will turn out at the end of their life? Who knows how any of our faith journeys will end up? But I for one would hope that we all use these three examples to check our own heart and to ensure that our faith is not based on a feeling but by the word of Jesus, by the Bible which never changes. And as I let Hunter explain to you all his thought processes behind the song “Dear God”, let us remember that God can handle all of our questions. No question is too small nor too big for Him. We can bring it all- and guaranteed He will provide comfort amongst the storm and healing in the calamity.
“Dear God” threw me for a loop. “Dear God” is like the therapy session tape you don’t want people to hear. And then when people hear it, all of a sudden I was scared of that song. I was proud of it, and scared of it. I started journaling on the plane. I started with “Dear World,” and I realized I was writing to God. And I thought, “Dear God.” That’s the title. I felt like that was the beginning of the conversation that I need to have with Him. So we were three writers that had never written before. I knew Andy, but Andy didn’t know Dave, I didn’t know Dave. So we were kind of strangers in a room, diving into this this voice inside our heads saying we’re not good enough.
And we’ve played with different lines here and there, and finished with “Dear God, are you sure that you don’t mess up?” And I was like, We can’t say that. That’s not allowed. That’s not okay. But I realized it was important because I don’t feel like it’s a question you would ask – unless you know the answer. And I feel like we all kind of know the answer already, but we need to ask it to hear it again. I feel like the Lord gives us big questions so He can answer in a big way. And that’s a big question. And I feel like sometimes He, no, I know that He’s answered me in a big way many times—but not unless I ask, not less I seek Him. And so I was scared of a song that didn’t have a resolve, and it doesn’t have a resolve all the way to the end. And I decided to sing one take that said, “Dear God, just remind me you don’t mess up,” to kind of close the song. And I felt better…I felt better about it, about singing in public.
It’s a series of tough questions. I believe you don’t go to your best friend with tough questions expecting them to have the wrong answers. And I don’t feel like you go to God with these questions expecting Him to not answer you. I feel like a lot of people disassociate faith with a negative question. And I think those are the questions you need to ask to know your faith. I think that’s important. it’s so critical, and I know that people sometimes feel brave enough to do it. But me, as a conservative Catholic kid, my dad and I had to have a long conversation on the way home from the first time I played that song. And we had another long conversation about it recently that lasted a week.
But you know, I was just explaining to him—and, and kind of explaining to myself, I guess, in the process—how important that question is and how important it is to talk about those struggles so that you can get an answer, so that someone can call from the dark and shine a light, you know?
Right now, I’m on a kick of reminding people of their self-worth. Because to question your self-worth, it’s to question your design and question your Maker. And I know obviously I’ve done that. I’ve done that, and I’ve made it public in a song. But I’ve made it public so that people can do that, so that they can get an answer.
You were made to be exactly who you are, as hard as that is to believe, as hard as it is for me to believe right now. My faults are what would make me. And I think it’s important to remind people of that. I think it’s important for me to be reminded of that on a very consistent basis, that we were made to be who we are, whatever that means. That’s the most validating thing in the world as a songwriter, when somebody comes when somebody comes up to you, a stranger, even like fans that I know have tattooed lyrics from “Wild Blue” or “Tell Me” or “Dear God” or “Invisible.” “Flashlight,” I’ve drawn flashlights because people want to reference that song and those lyrics.
That’s the most validating thing as a songwriter because you write all the songs in a vacuum. And then they basically just sit there, and then you finally get to play the songs live. And you have somebody that wants to ink themselves, to permanently remind themselves of a lyric.
I truly believe great songs aren’t something that we come up with. We just kind of receive them. So hopefully you’re open. And I speak often that it’s not a well, it’s a river. And you have to just be ready to receive the river. You have to just be open to it. So when that happens, I think it’s just a reminder that, yeah, it’s not about me. It’s about a greater message, about a greater purpose. And those are the moments where you were reminded you received it right. You opened yourself up. You made your vulnerable, and you spoke. And it reached. And it connected.
Hunter Hayes isn’t popular, nor is he influential at this very moment. But “Dear God” and by extension his album Wild Blue (Complete) is one of his most inspiring, encouraging and comforting of what I’ve heard in recent times. If Hunter Hayes and his music has taught me one thing, it is this: It’s that as much as we feel like Marty McFly from Back to The Future- about wanting to change an event for the greater good, or wanting to erase that event so that we don’t feel the pain (read my blog for context or more on my thoughts on Back To the Future!); we can’t cause we don’t have a time machine. But we shouldn’t do everything in our control to mask our feelings of hurt either. As much of Hunter’s songs(on this album and across this whole disography!) are songs about heartbreak and songs about sadness- there are equally as many songs about joy, celebration, and the knowledge that we have a God in our corner who loves us and who cares about us all deeply, so much that He sent His Son Jesus to die in our place some 2000 + years ago, all so that we might never die but have everlasting life with Him someday. I mean that’s part and parcel of humanity, isn’t it? That we have bad experiences but also good experiences- and both shape us to who we are. God doesn’t cause the bad experiences, but He does use them for His glory and our good.
So in this time of Omicron, when we’re searching for answers as to why COVID-19 is happening in the first place, and while we are trying to jam out to Hunter Hayes’s though-provoking, comforting and confronting tunes that have us all on the edge of our seat- either dancing or in awe of his lyrical prowess; let us remember that God, who is perfect, doesn’t mess up. Sometimes it may seem like He’s not there. But He is. The God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, David, Daniel and all of the other prophets… is the same God we all can talk to right now. The same God who loves us. Isn’t that cause for celebration? And why ever would we want to turn back time if it means we haven’t grown by the end of it? Sure “I Want Crazy” is popular, but “Dear God”… that’s the song that we all need to hear and that’s the song that will change the world. Well done Hunter Hayes for one of the most powerful albums I’ve heard this past year! Bring on Red Sky!
The pandemic changed a lot of things. It took away any consistency that I had in my life. I mean, just like all of us. The more I rushed onto the next project, the more I realized I was creating music that fit into some very different scenes. I like when albums have scenes and themes. It’s not as much conceptual as much as it is just…. I always call them chapters. All the songs that didn’t go on the original Wild Blue (Part 1) release that I thought would go on this new record? I realized that they belonged in the Wild Blue (Part 1) chapter.
Almost every night for like six months, I would just listen to these songs that I thought were for the new album and keep saying to myself, ‘No, they belong here,’. But at the time, I was working on three albums at the same time. So I separated it into different categories — different acts if you will. And that was the way that I ended up understanding it. I don’t know that I’m as much of a perfectionist as it’s just about intentionality.
I just feel like the clouds are clearing. I’ve spent a lot of time on my own mental wellness and emotional wellness and I’m really proud of the changes that I’ve had and the growth that has happened. And I feel like I have a more complete picture of myself now.
4 songs to listen to: Tell Me, Dear God, One Good Reason, Still
RIYL: Luke Bryan, Thomas Rhett, Carrie Underwood, Gabby Barrett, Maddie & Tae, Lady A, Jennifer Nettles