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Music Review: Hunter Hayes is inventive country-pop performer on sophomore album, 'Storyline'

This CD cover image released by Atlantic Records shows

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This CD cover image released by Atlantic Records shows "Storyline," the latest release by Hunter Hayes. (AP Photo/Atlantic Records)

Hunter Hayes, "Storyline" (Atlantic Records)

At 22, Hunter Hayes isn't one for subtlety on his sophomore album: His up-tempo songs ("Tattoo," ''Storyline") race with breathless rushes of lyrics and fast, busy arrangements; his ballads are intensely dramatic, whether he takes on self-esteem (the Top 10 country hit "Invisible") or the mysteries of attraction ("Still Fallin''').

The Grammy-nominated rising star is following up his 2011 successful self-titled introductory record by once again co-writing, co-producing and playing several instruments on "Storyline."

To his credit, Hayes avoids contemporary country cliches: There are no pickup trucks, dirt roads or beer drinking in these songs. Still, even though the opening "Wild Card" boasts that he's a crazy guy, Hayes could benefit from loosening up and showing some of that wildness on record.

That said, Hayes is an inventive country-pop songwriter and performer. He and co-producer Dann Huff cram songs with clever sonic twists; they even include a couple of short musical interludes, as if the other dozen tracks don't provide room for all of the instrumental ideas.

Hayes is striving for something more distinctive than radio hits; he wants to inspire, to create something spectacular. "Storyline" doesn't quite fulfil that ambition, but fans will find the collection entertaining. And there's enough to suggest that the multitalented boy wonder still packs plenty of potential.

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