Hunter Hayes

Hunter Hayes (Encore) |

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When Hunter Hayes's self-titled debut came out in October 2011, it slipped through the cracks for this critic. Since then he's become a Grammy-nominated, hit-making heartthrob. Now the 21-year-old singer and multi-instrumentalist has released a deluxe edition of Hunter Hayes that includes five new songs and three rerecorded tracks, and it gives me a chance to weigh in on the old stuff. Certainly the No. 1 country singles "Wanted" and "Somebody's Heartbreak" still sparkle with their sheer craftsmanship, and they transcend the genre in a way that demonstrates Hayes is capable of being a real pop star à la Taylor Swift. Even better is "Rainy Season," a bluesy ballad that, showcasing Hayes's guitar skills, makes him out to be a junior John Mayer. "Everybody's Got Somebody but Me," reworked here as a duet with Jason Mraz, displays folk-pop charms to rival the aforementioned's "I'm Yours." Best of the new tunes is the mandolin-laced single "I Want Crazy," which, as one of the most country songs here, proves Hayes is not looking to leave Nashville behind.

Mavis Staples

One True Vine |

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After winning her very first Grammy with Jeff Tweedy behind the boards for 2010's You Are Not Alone, Mavis Staples again achieves soulful glory with the Wilco frontman. New gospel-spirited songs by Tweedy and Nick Lowe mix with covers like Funkadelic's "Can You Get to That." Then there's her bluesy take on father Pops Staples's "I Like the Things About Me," which she inhabits with true grit.



Brit's song from The Smurfs 2 makes her sound like a cartoon character in that gooey chorus. Call her Chirpy Smurf.

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CHER "Woman's World"

It's not "Believe," but this fist-pumping anthem shows that, at 67, Cher can still rock the EDM (electronic dance music) planet.

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JOHN MAYER "Paper Doll"

"You're like 22 girls in one," sings Mayer, perhaps referring to ex Taylor Swift (and her song "22") on this bittersweet beauty.

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Just in time for summer, JJ gets you good with another piece of folk-pop sunshine complete with a whistling refrain.

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On headlining the second night of the big Essence Festival

It's a great honor. It's the epicenter of what soul music is about. [The artists] all powwow, and it becomes like a big lovefest. This is my third time. I remember starting out [in '06] with the big Afro, and I was so freaked out. I had never been in front of so many people in my life!

On his fan base

When I was 22, most of the people who listened to my music were, like, 45. In some ways it was seen as a problem, but it's the best thing. I don't have to deal with the changing trends. And the kids that grow up with my music—I am shocked. There will be 20-year-olds singing along to my songs, and they're like, "My mom loves you, man!"

On "Fire We Make," his current duet with Alicia Keys

We go back a long time, but the person who really played a major role in putting that together was Swizz Beatz, her husband. Alicia and I plan to do more. She is going to be my Tammi [Terrell, Marvin Gaye's duet partner].

On just turning 40 in May

If I could be 19 again and shoot straight to 40 and feel as good as I feel now, I would. It's how you rock it!


How does it feel to give your coach Blake Shelton a three-peat with your win?

It hasn't sunk in yet! I look up to Blake like a big papa. He always says, "If you need anything, me and Miranda [Lambert, his wife] are there for you."

It looked like you were swooning over Hunter Hayes during your finale duet. Is he your celeb crush?

I love Hunter, but it's a tie between Austin Mahone and Justin Bieber. They are cute and can sing and dance.

What have you missed most being away from your home in Texas?

Being at my best friend Haley's house, dancing to hip-hop in the kitchen. And definitely home cooking! I can get spaghetti anywhere, but it's different when Mom cooks it.

Where do see yourself in a decade?

Hopefully sitting at the Grammys. I just have to keep working hard and hopefully I'll become a big star!



Song Versation

The neo-soul songbird tries overly hard to be clever with the title of her fifth album, and then some of these tunes (like "Just Do You") end up too clichéd. Still, she possesses a special spirit that makes you know she believes it all.

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Move over, Daft Punk: Another duo are bringing the boogie to the dance floor. On their debut album, these English brothers- aided by guest vocalists like Jessie Ware - pump real heart and soul into some body-rocking beats.

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After going platinum with 2009's Awake, this band aims to take their hard rock to higher ground with this concept album. Yes, it can get bombastic, but at least they put "Fire and Fury" - as one song title goes - into it all.

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Eric Stuart Band

Lipstick & Barbed Wire

He may live in Nashville, but Stuart sounds like he's coming straight from Asbury Park, N.J., on Springsteen-esque songs like "Justified" (with Peter Frampton on guitar). He's no Boss, natch, but it's solid.

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