Recording information: Beech Creek Studios, Brentwood, TN; Ben's Studio, Nashville, TN; Blackbird Studios, Nashville, TN; Capitol Recording Studios, Hollywood, CA; Winslow Ct. Studio, Los Angeles, CA.
He may have started recording long before her -- as a Louisiana wunderkind, he had a pair of records released when he was just nine and ten -- but Hunter Hayes emerged in the 2010s as the first genuine post-Taylor Swift artist in country music. Hayes followed her footsteps in the sense that he hid neither his youth nor his careerism, allowing his songs to have an open-hearted adolescence tempered by hooks designed to fill stadiums or at least occupy constant space on the airwaves. All this was evident on his eponymous 2011 album -- the major-label debut with Atlantic that effectively acts as his overall debut -- but it's in even stronger play on its 2014 sequel, Storyline. Once again co-written and co-produced by Hayes (Dann Huff returns as the co-producer), Storyline differs from its predecessor in that it showcases Hayes' touring band, a move that opens up the music and lets it breathe. Nevertheless, Hayes could never be considered a gritty musician, not by a long shot; he's proud of his sunny disposition and possesses a high, slightly nasal voice that occasionally recalls Gary LeVox of Rascal Flatts. Hunter may have penned "Play," a tune that turned into a hit for RF in 2010, but he favors a brighter, sturdier pop than that Ohio group and he also can sling a guitar like Brad Paisley, two distinctions that give Storyline a livelier feel. His instrumental prowess provides the tightest ties to country music -- there's twang and muscle in his leads -- and they're showcased early on the album but this is by and large a proud pop album, something that's plain by the time the record reaches its first single, "Invisible," at just before the halfway point. Like Taylor, Hunter doesn't bother sounding older than his years nor does he care to put on airs: he's a modern-day Southern boy, raised on radio pop played in big box stores and playing the back porch on a Sunday afternoon, and those two strands come together beguilingly on this second album. ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine
Rolling Stone - 3 stars out of 5 -- "14 tracks with clean arrangements and twangless vocals that could carry the singer-songwriter beyond country radio altogether."