The 21 Project

Hunter Hayes

(CD - Atlantic #7567866715)

Review by Stephen Thomas Erlewine

Unlike Taylor Swift, who wrote "22" when she was 22, Hunter Hayes wrote "21" when he was 24, so the 2015 song doesn't mark a personal milestone for the country singer/songwriter, but he decided to throw a party for the tune anyway, using it as the anchor for The 21 Project, a 21-song set that sees a seven-song EP from three angles. First up is the studio set, slick and smooth and bearing all the hallmarks of a big budget, and that's followed by acoustic interpretations of the songs -- to be clear, these are not demos but fully produced renditions, complete with a backing band and, on one cut, Lady Antebellum. The group shows up on all three discs, including the final disc that finds Hunter playing each of the seven songs in front of a crowd. These live cuts are nearly as big and glossy as the studio cuts, so the cumulative effect of The 21 Project suggests that no matter what the setting, Hunter Hayes is preternaturally gifted Nashville player who loves the machinations of the Music City as much as he loves the songs themselves. As for those songs, they're certainly well-crafted -- his mastery with construction is evident and he's casually versatile, dipping into pop, beach-front reggae, and crossover ready ballads -- but if they weren't given such an attention-grabbing presentation, there wouldn't be a reason to remember a single one.

blue highlight denotes track pick