Sony Music Entertainment
Release Date: January 21st 2022
Reviewed by: Joshua Andre
Walker Hayes– Country Stuff The Album (Amazon mp3/iTunes)
- Drinking Songs
- Life With You
- U Gurl
- Fancy Like
- Craig (feat. MercyMe)
- What You Don’t Wish For
- Country Stuff (feat. Jake Owen)
- I Hope You Miss Me
- Briefcase (feat. Lori McKenna)
- Make You Cry
- What If We Did (feat. Carly Pearce)
Country music and me have had a complicated relationship. Throughout my high school and university years, I’ve heard country music here and there on the radio. Probably the most well-known artist that I heard back then was Carrie Underwood- her songs like “Jesus Take The Wheel”, “So Small”, “Temporary Home”, “Blown Away”, “Good Girl”, “Something In The Water” and “Before He Cheats” are some of the songs I heard and resonated with back in the day! While Martina McBride (“Anyway”, “God’s Will” and “This One’s For The Girls”), Keith Urban (“Days Go By”, “Somebody Like You”, “You’re My Better Half”, “Everybody” and “Once In A Lifetime”), Shania Twain (“From This Moment On”, “You’re Still The One”, and “That Don’t Impress Me Much”) and Faith Hill (“There You’ll Be”, “Breathe”, “This Kiss” and “Mississippi Girl”) all present on the radio in the background throughout the years as well. Fast forward until around about 2-3 years ago, and artists like Rascal Flatts, Lady A, Carly Pearce, Kelsea Ballerini, Jana Kramer, Thomas Rhett, Maddie & Tae, Tenille Townes, Tenille Arts, Hunter Hayes, Lauren Alaina, Lindsay Ell, Maren Morris, Blake Shelton, Cassadee Pope, Mickey Guyton, Little Big Town and Sugarland all invaded my space… and more or less these country artists are for the better.
See, a number of years ago, I used to think that songs about cars and girls and beer and trucks and the American way of life… and these would be songs that I would not connect with at all. However, as is the case with God working in mysterious ways, I have in fact found out that despite not being an American, the country genre is essentially one of the few genres outside of CCM that I have connected and resonated with. A deeper look reveals that it may not be that weird or strange as I originally thought, after all- since country songs are all about storytelling and speaking about a way of life that is focused on your values, morals, ethics and your faith… that’s the kind of lifestyle and songs that I resonated with. Simple, yet effective story telling about the real issues of life.
Simply put, for the past 2-3 years extensively, these aforementioned country artists have all inspired and blessed me greatly with their powerful, confronting and challenging melodies. Even though I’m not American, it is these artists above who have helped place this genre in a special place in my heart. Yet there was an album last year that dampened my spirits… just a bit. Life Rolls On by Florida Georgia Line was, for all intents and purposes, an album that made me lose my faith in country music a little bit. I reviewed the album here, but the gist of my assessment of one of the most blandest country albums I’ve ever heard (and one of the worst albums of 2021); and that it was honestly a train-wreck. I can’t sugar-coat this review, and it made me think that maybe the country genre at large, and aside from a few specific albums that rose above the norm; was more like another cog in the machine of mass-produced Nashville inspired melodies, rather than the deep-thinking, moving, and thought-provoking genre I initially believed it to be. This aforementioned fact is why Walker Hayes’ latest album Country Stuff The Album, with an on-the-surface similar vibe and atmosphere to Life Rolls On, was an album that I didn’t have high hopes for. I was intrigued- simply because the genre was country, and generally I’ve never been steered that wrong by the genre before; however, I was still apprehensive. Sadly though, on the whole, after a few listens to this poppy and honest album over the past few weeks or so; I can conclude that we are presented with an album that I pretty much expected. A ‘cool’ and ‘hip’ mash up of country and pop, that country purists would immediately balk at; Country Stuff The Album tires to be modern and includes a number of guest vocals. Yet Walker’s new album doesn’t reinvent the wheel of country music. Yet it’s not that much better than anything from Florida Georgia Line. And that’s definitely not a good thing.
Walker Hayes isn’t a recognisable nor popular artist in the larger scheme of things- and to be frank I don’t think I would have heard about him had it not been for country review Grady Smith’s videos about Walker’s TikTok videos and his Fancy Like Tik Tok dance. You can all view Grady’s videos about Walker here, and also read about Walker on Wikipedia here. But… in a nutshell, I decided to check out Country Stuff The Album just out of curiosity- because Grady (who is quite reputable in the online YouTube community) talked about it. Never mind that it was in a semi-negative light. And what I have concluded is that Country Stuff The Album is best served as background music and nothing more. Opening with “Drinking Songs”, the electronic pop melody is stuffed full of instruments… and the melody doesn’t really have room to breathe. This opener isn’t a country song at all, and with superficial lyrics about thanking God for country songs about drinking because the persona has broken up with his girlfriend and he needs time to grieve and he needs a soundtrack to grieve to; well… is this song country lyrically? It’s not specific enough and Walker is listing a number of things in the chorus that will cheer him up (Bocephus, Williams boys, Hank); and together with the poppy and groovy melody; well it’s fun but nothing memorable and nothing that sets him apart from someone similar like Thomas Rhett, who in my mind is more superior in every aspect!
The rest of Country Stuff The Album is more or less like the opener, and makes me feel… umm, well I don’t feel bad after listening to this album. Because with half the album, I just feel nothing. The back end is solid though… and that is actually way worse, because if the front half doesn’t grab you, then the last half of strong songs… probably doesn’t even matter to those who won’t give the album a chance. “AA” is an acoustic guitar melody that has Walker speaking about how he wants to stay out of AA, that ‘…and I’m just tryna keep my daughters off the pole, and my sons out of jail, tryna get to church so I don’t go to hell, I’m just tryna keep my wife from figuring out, that I married up and she married way, way down…’, however the electronic voice keeps distracting me from the message of the track, even though it’s a noble and aspirational message; while the moving, inspiring, honest and emotional ballad “Life With You” should tug at everyone’s emotions and feelings, with Walker earnestly declaring that he wants to every day commit to doing life with his wife. “U Gurl” is probably the ultimate definition of the most sexist, misogynistic and chauvinistic song ever, so let’s just leave that track in the rear-vision mirror and pretend that it doesn’t exist; while the sweet and poignant guitar ballad “Delorean” reminds us that songs have the power to bring us back to our most cherished memories and the definite moments of our youth- with Walker specifically singing in this song about the early moments of dating his now wife.
“Fancy Like”, the album’s lead single and probably the only song that Walker will be famous for now going forward (with a pretty bland music video, but also with a much more artistic and picturesque video for the duet with Kesha, which is surprisingly missing from the album!), eloquently reminds us all sometimes to treat your family, you can go and eat out at an expensive restaurant because ‘…we fancy like Applebee’s on a date night (That’s right), got some Bourbon Street steak with the Oreo shake (Ayy), get some whipped cream on the top, too (Gotta add that whipped cream), two straws, one check, girl, I got you (Girl, I got you)…’; while the song could also be interpreted as a ‘I’m so rich so I’m flaunting it in all of our faces and all you commonfolk can’t do anything about it so sucks for you’ kind of thing, or an overt advertisement for Applebee’s. “Craig”, with CCM band MercyMe, was the track I was excited to listen to, because… well you know, Mercy Me- need I say more? But I was actually underwhelmed here, as Walker can’t rap at all, and the song, while referencing Christianity, doesn’t actually go deep enough about the actual gospel. Granted though, this isn’t a CCM album, so I shouldn’t really expect Walker to sing about something that he may or may not believe in, but I guess I had different expectations because of the CCM artist attached. “Craig”, though talking about someone at church being the hands and feet of Jesus, actually felt like a half-hearted attempt rush job at a feel-good ‘Christian’ song just to tick a box or to seem like he’s religious or God conscious, and I do not say this lightly. “What You Don’t Wish For”, thankfully, is a heart-warming and powerful piano ballad about chasing your dreams and taking each situation as they come, being thankful and grateful for God who gives us more than we could ever hope or imagine or pray for. However, the blasé and unremarkable the title track reminds me that this album has few bright spots, with Walker and guest vocalist Jake Owen being so cringeworthy, and listing things without rhyme or reason about what supposedly makes them country. I actually didn’t even make it through half the song, it’s that bad!
The acoustic guitar ballad “I Hope You Miss Me”, another rare album highlight, speaks about Walker missing his ex, wishing the best for her in all of her future endeavours, but also hoping that she misses him and returns to him; with the melody being a track that we could all relate to on some level because we all would like to be loved and appreciated by our partner, family and friends. The moving and compelling piano ballad “Briefcase”, with Lori McKenna, is a sweet homage and tribute to Walker’s dad, as he thanks him for loving him and being the best father he could be, while the heart-wrenching “Make You Cry” is as emotional as ever, with Walker singing that he loves to make his wife emotional with his singing, because it means that she appreciates him for who he is as a person. Country Stuff The Album then ends with “What If We Did”, a solid ballad about two people wishing for a fairy tale life of kids and a white picket fence that might not happen. But it’s a track that is instantly forgettable, and a melody that doesn’t utilises guest vocalist Carly Pearce’s vocals… and that’s a criminal decision no matter which way you slice it.
Walker Hayes’ Country Stuff The Album is a conundrum. Because you have clear standouts like “Life With You”, “What You Don’t Wish For”, “I Hope You Miss Me” and “Briefcase”. But there’s also skippable songs like “U Gurl”, “Country Stuff”, “Fancy Like”, “Drinking Songs” and “AA”. Sure there’s diversity here and there’s something for everyone. But by spreading himself too thin and not making this album focused enough, Walker has delivered a project that is simply a catastrophe and overall forgettable. If you’re wanting a country album with substance, then I would say check out Tenille Arts’ Girl To Girl or Lady A’s What A Song Can Do. But if you really love Walker Hayes and everything he does… then perhaps this album is for you. I will definitely not begrudge you at all. After all, you may be really into the TikTok thing and the cringey dance moves. Regardless, Walker is an interesting case, because his next album could be brilliant- he certainly has the song-writing ability to create a great album. So… will it be the next album that brings him to that whole other level of greatness? I certainly hope so. Who am I kidding though… “Fancy Like” has brought him success… so it could probably be like this album! Shall we keep our fingers crossed now and hope that Thomas Rhett’s Where We Started is like Country Again Side A, the most ‘countriest’ country/pop album of 2021?
3 songs to listen to: Life With You, What You Don’t Wish For, Briefcase
RIYL: Kane Brown, Hunter Hayes, Thomas Rhett, Mickey Guyton, Gabby Barrett, Kelsea Ballerini