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Album Review: Hunter Hayes, (Encore)

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 (Atlantic Records)

For fans who eagerly wondered what Hunter Hayes would do for an encore to his near-platinum selling debut, here’s the obvious answer. “(Encore)” takes the best songs from that first collection, re-records three of them, then adds five new ones to make a 17-track “deluxe” package.

When first released in 2011 Hayes’ self-titled album made quite an impression: barely out of his teens, he co-wrote and co-produced all the songs, played many of the instruments and sounded completely at home whether putting across a rocker or a ballad. Before long he’d chalked up a trio of hits, won the Country Music Association’s New Artist Of The Year award in 2012 and was nominated for three Grammys this year.

Now, “(Encore)” finds him circling back to finesse that first release while expanding it at the same time. And so propulsive Top 20 Country single “Storm Warning” still grabs listeners right at the beginning of the album, and Number One singles “Wanted” and “Somebody’s Heartbreak” are in fine, original form here too. But get halfway through the familiar tracks and the album becomes a new listening experience.

This time around “Everybody’s Got Somebody But Me” features Jason Mraz, and Hayes couldn’t ask for a more perfect partner on the song.  “What You Gonna Do” has turned into a duet with Ashley Monroe of the Pistol Annies, with her vocal bringing a new dimension to the track. And in its more amped-up incarnation, “More Than I Should” rocks out even better than before.

Then, the new songs take this “(Encore)” to its finale. Irresistible current single “I Want Crazy” is already in the Top Ten, “A Thing About You” struts its stuff in fine style, and with chiming guitars plus a sing-a-long chorus it’s easy to understand why “Light Me Up” has become a fan favorite.

Until Hayes brings up the curtain on his second album proper, “(Encore)” is a thoroughly satisfying way to linger a while longer at this stage of his career.