The Real Thing
First Appeared at The Music Box, June 2002, Volume 9, #6
Written by T.J. Simon
Rodney Hayden is a baby-faced, 22-year-old, Texas-born singer-songwriter with a voice that is wise beyond his years. His debut album The Real Thing is an impressive collection of mainstream country tracks that was rejected by a Nashville music establishment for being "too country." The disc was eventually released on Robert Earl Keen’s new label — a good thing considering that Hayden may be the most promising young voice in country music.
Often times, a new artist will pad an introductory release with a handful of cover tunes designed to serve as a musical insurance policy. And, Hayden continues this tradition on The Real Thing, delivering songs by veteran songwriters Chip Taylor (The Real Thing), Billy Joe Shaver (Black Rose), Tom Waits (I Hope That I Don’t Fall in Love with You), and Robbie Fulks (Tears Only Run One Way). The darndest thing is that Hayden and his songwriting partner Bill Whitbeck put together seven of their own tracks for The Real Thing that are superior songs to the "safety covers."
Furthermore, Hayden succeeds even though he’s not exactly reinventing the country wheel. In fact, nearly every C&W cliché is milked on this likable, listenable release. The standout, drop everything, oughta-be-a-hit number is Heartaches and Highways, which begins with a triumphant fiddle fanfare that also bridges the catchy chorus with the lonely-on-the-road verses. Mighty Lonesome Sound features heartbreaks and train lyrics over a country-blues shuffle. And, on the strongest ballad on the disc I’ll Give You Love, Hayden espouses the virtues of living a simple life (pick-up truck, dog, etc.) with common-man dignity.
So, despite the fact that Hayden doesn’t break any new ground on The Real Thing, there’s still an awful lot to enjoy. He can write and carry a country tune as well as his much-older colleagues — and he’s light years better then the "hat" acts populating country radio today. Hayden has earned his hat through mature songwriting arrangements and lyrics that remain innocently free of smugness or irony. In other words, Hayden sings real country music filled with sorrow and emotion that would play well on any forward-thinking C&W radio format. One can only imagine the sorrow that will be in his voice when he is finally old enough to shave. ½
1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
Copyright © 2002 The Music Box