A Tale of Redemption…Going “The Distance”

15 Mar


First, let me say that Taylor Hicks owes me nothing.  Nada.  Not a thing.

I used to think that he did, but let me say here (clearly), that I was wrong.  You see, four years ago when I rabidly followed Taylor on the cheese fest that is American Idol, I was envigorated by a young man who appeared to beat the odds, defy “the man” and strike a blow for the every day music lover.  He was a refreshing throwback to good, “old” music that was pure, un-synthesized, and “real”.  He was the everyday musical hero who came to save the day.

After AI, I expected Taylor to remain “all about the music” and continue to defy the musical ogres who control content and dole out the uninspiring pablum derived from electronic manipulation.  It was evident from Taylor’s first post-AI release, Taylor Hicks, that there was more influence from those writing the checks than any of us would have preferred.  Through the whole time, Taylor seemed to be impersonating some character in a play and while fans largely supported the record, it rang hollow on the charts.  It seemed that the daring, soulful style and smokin’ harmonica accompniment was largely absent from the record, leaving listeners, including me, wondering just where Taylor Hicks went.

His live tour was very successful and likely garnished Taylor enough dough to break away from J Records (whether mutual or not), start his own label, and take time for the next record that, maybe…just maybe, would more closely represent what fans so desparately want to hear from the soul man.  There have been some detours along the way, including the Broadway role of Teen Angel, that I simply did not agree with because it’s not my vision for the dude.  But, really…what do I know?

Oddly enough, Grease appears to have been the catalyst that provided some public acceptance and a bit of a springboard for, perhaps, a redemption of “America’s pick”.   Even though I still cringe at the notion of Taylor crooning out Beauty School Dropout, I can’t deny that it’s been good for his career.  Hey, it’s a mean to an end, I guess.  I have said all along, if the music is good, people will listen and all of the other extra-cirricular activities won’t mean a thing. 

That brings us to the release of Taylor Hicks’ new CD, The Distance.  I’ve been listening to it for a few days along with some other new music that I’ve been recently turned on to.  I wanted to give it a few days to simmer before I commented.  First, let me quench your curiosity and say that overall, this CD is MUCH better than the first release.

There’s a definite ease on this record that was absent on Taylor Hicks.  While that effort was frenetic, disjointed and a bit out of control, The Distance is thoughtful, balanced and comfortable.  It is very reminiscient of his pre-Idol work and shows that Taylor seems to be going “back” to his core, which is exactly what most people loved about him in the first place.  This should have been his Idol release, had they been smart.  The arrogance of greedy people who believe their “formula” for making a record and maximizing its profit never ceases to amaze me, but we continually see these dinosaurs take unique and genuine talent and turn them into something that is the opposite of what actually makes them appealing, and then scratching their head at its failure.

But, I digress…back to the review.

As I previously detailed, the first single, What’s Right is Right, is a simple, pleasing tune with a great video.  It’s currently doing well on AC radio and seems to be a happy medium between what’s expected from fans and what’s accepted by the industry. 

But what about the rest of the record?   Well, I think I get Taylor.  He is not just one style or one genre.  Like me, he likes a lot of different types and styles of music and I think that’s what he wanted this record to be.  Recently, he did a guest DJ spot on “My Turn” on 100.3 (Newport Beach, CA), no doubt as part of his promotion of this release (which I have to say is 200% better than the crack PR team at J Records and The Firm).  Whoever is in charge of promotion this time is doing a fabulous job.  Anyway, Taylor’s playlist for the hour long DJ stint is very telling.

St. Dominic’s PreviewVan Morrison
Gasoline Alley -Rod Stewart
How Long – Ace
Rainy Night In Georgia – Brook Benton
You Belong To Me – Carly Simon 
Hurricane Water – Citizen Cope
Foggy Mountain Breakdown – Lester Flatt & Earl Scruggs
Where I’m From (Alabama Frame Of Mind)- Shelby Lynne
Life’s Been Good – Joe Walsh
Lowdown in Lodi – Freddie King
Something So Right – Paul Simon
Arc Of A Diver – Steve Winwood
Don’t Think TwiceSusan Tedeschi
I’m In Love – Wilson Pickett

To hear Taylor’s DJ skillz, click on the following player.

Now, I have to say that this was one of the most redeeming things I’ve heard from Taylor in a while.  It validated that the dude still has great music taste and still true to it.  Many of the songs on the new CD incorporate “sounds” from Taylor influences like Steve Winwood, Keb ‘Mo, Delbert McClinton, Van Morrison, and The Meters.  He signed on a quality producer in Simon Climie, who has produced Eric Clapton and who is an accomplished keyboardist and song writer in his own right.  In addition, some of Clapton’s touring band performed on the record, including Doyle Brahmall II and bassist Nathan East and was joined by Paul McCartney’s drummer, Abe Laboriel, Jr.

This is a quality record, with quality songs, musicians, and mixing.  I like it.  I have to say that it’s very entertaining and there are a few really good tracks on it.  If I had to pick a favorite, it would be Maybe You Should.  Written by Taylor and Nashville songwriter Gary Nicholson (who contributes on several songs), it is a great ballad that reminds me of Bonnie Raitt’s I Can’t Make You Love Me.  That could be because songwriter Michael Reid co-wrote both of them.  While I love Taylor’s raspy blues feel to this song, I could also see Keith Urban doing this song.

Along with Nineteen, Seven Mile Breakdown (co-penned with Hicks by Spoonful James’ guitarist and pre-Idol buddy, Wynn Christian) and the title-track, The Distance, Maybe You Should has serious Country potential, if appopriately brought to Nashville.  Even the blues number, Wedding Day Blues is oddly reminiscient of Garth Brooks’ Country anthem, Friends in Low Places.

While there’s certainly some Country influence, this CD is not a one trick twang pony.  One of my favorites, Keeping It Real, is influenced by co-author Delbert McClinton’s wily humor along with a great strider piano, New Orleans sound.  It’s also the ONLY track on the CD with a harmonica accompniment.  A pity, as I really dig the harp.

There’s also plenty of “soul” in the Nick Lowe cover, I Live on a Battlefield, and one of my all-time favorite tunes, Woman’s Gotta Have It, where he is accompanied by AI buddy, Elliott Yamin.  Now, Woman’s Gotta Have It is one on my Music Maven “All-Time Favorite” list, but James Taylor’s 1976 version from his In the Pocket CD which is, in my opinion, one of the best albums ever made — but that’s a different subject for a different day.  I really love the meshing of voices between Elliott and Taylor and especially Taylor harmonizing background vocal (fulfilling Simon’s ambition for him), but the beginning of JT’s version is more to my liking.  Got me to wondering what a combined version would sound like.  Hmmmm….

Once Upon a Lover and New Found Freedom are my “throw away” tracks.  I didn’t like the Latino sound of West Texas Sky and I don’t care for it on Once Upon a Lover.  New Found Freedom is more of an Idol “coronation” song that just doesn’t measure up to the other songs on the CD.   

The marketing plan of three “special tracks” via different store exclusives are in play for The Distance.  Wal-Mart offers the Ray Charles’ cover Hide Nor Hair, Target provides Indiscriminate Act of Kindness, and iTunes has Yes We Can, Can.  While I haven’t been able to sample Hide Nor Hair, Indiscriminate Act of Kindness reminds me of Taylor’s much heralded performance of the Ray classic, Georgia.  It is indulgent and very non-descript.  While I know this won’t be popular with the “Soul Patrol”, Indiscriminate Act of Kindness is NOT a song that exhibits Taylor Hicks’ talent nor is it a very appealing cut.  However, if you’re looking for a theme song about drug addiction and recovery, this is likely as good as it gets.

On the other hand, the iTunes “special”, Yes We Can is a veritable who’s who of funk & boogie.  Written by Allen Toussaint and covered by the likes of soul man, Marc Broussard and The Pointer Sisters, Yes We Can pays homage to the soul/zydeco/funk of the Southern Gulf Coast.  While Taylor may be considered the “forgotten idol”, the fact that Ivan Neville, Delbert McClinton and Stax legend, Steve Cropper provide back-up, indicates that “real” musicians “get” Taylor.  Even Marc Broussard couldn’t pull that off.

Music Maven gives Taylor Hicks’ The Distance  4 of 5 stars.   Buy it.

Redemption attained.


13 responses to “A Tale of Redemption…Going “The Distance”

  1. itsallgrey

    March 15, 2009 at 9:24 pm

    Good review, and I agree on most points. However, Indiscriminate Act of Kindness, to me, is classic Taylor. Finally, on a song recorded in the studio, you can hear emotion in his vocals. That was one of my criticisms of this record, that Taylor kind of lopes through all the songs with the same enunciation, tone and feelings. Songs that should have been given more attention with vocals, like Maybe You Should, come up a little short. Nineteen seems to be another one that he seems to sing like he’s singing I Live on A Battlefield.

    When I first heard Foy Vance sing IAoK, I thought it couldn’t get any better. But then I heard Taylors version. He slowed it down, and made it much more mournful, if that makes any sense.

    Much better CD this time around though..he keeps me hanging on. 🙂

  2. itsallgrey

    March 15, 2009 at 9:26 pm

    I don’t mean to say that Maybe You Should came up short, because that is the standout of the CD for me, next to IAoK. I just think if he could capture his voice the way he sings live…then he could catch the genie in the bottle.

  3. music maven

    March 15, 2009 at 9:44 pm

    As I said, I spent a few days taken the CD in before I commented. I actually went back to it several times among other new music I was previewing.

    I have to disagree about the “loping”. I think all of the songs are very well thought out and delivered with appropriate emotion. I like “Maybe You Should” because it is sincere but not over the top. I find IAoK too deliberate and frankly, boring. It’s really just a matter of preference. I do really like the CD and like the collaborations even better.

    Personally, I would LOVE to see Taylor and Elliott deliver a smokin’ version of “Woman’s Gotta Have It” on one of the AI results shows, but I think Taylor has proved that he doesn’t need AI to succeed and move his music forward.

    As for the live vs. recorded, I would agree that Taylor has to be seen live to appreciate his music, however, he needs recording. I think these are songs that lend themselves to great live performances giving him the best of both worlds.

    Unlike previous initatives, I’m just listening to this release like I do others and I have found that I’m enjoying it a hell of a lot more.

  4. spinshack

    March 16, 2009 at 10:04 am

    I have to disagree with your assessment that IAoK just a song for those who have had drug issues or known others who have or that it’s boring. This is a song that shows that Hicks can deliver that raw emotional feel that we’ve seen live – in a recorded format. Many of the tunes on this CD sound vocally the same and almost robotic in delivery. I don’t FEEL the emotion, I hear the words, but something stops short of transferring the FEEL from ears to my heart.

    True it’s a long song, but so was his recorded version of “Georgia”. IAoK comes closest to my heart as his “Georgia”, the tune leaked out in the media that completely sold me on the guy while he was on Idol. I always knew his Idol character was just that and it was brilliant marketing – but inside that “Georgia” delivery seemed to shine his soul and true musical heart.

    “Maybe You Should” a very good tune as well and comes closer than any of the others on the main disc to hitting that transfer from recording to live impact.

  5. music maven

    March 16, 2009 at 10:57 am

    As I said, matter of preference. I didn’t get the “robotics” feel and definitely don’t see/hear repetition in the tracks. While I like good, emotional songs, I also like good music for music sake. I really like the All-American Rejects song “Gives You Hell” and it’s not a bevy of emotion, just good rockin’ fun.

    For me, Taylor redeemed his “musicness” and took back what’s his. Good ’nuff.

  6. JenAdams

    March 16, 2009 at 7:23 pm

    Nice review, MM. Would you believe I haven’t bought it yet? I previewed it online, whatever site it was that had it a week or two ago. My first impressions were very similar to yours. Now I just have to decide where to buy it! I don’t do iPod or iTunes – I am an MP3 kind of girl, so I might have to go for the Wal-Mart version. My Wal-Mart didn’t have it yet last week. I will have to check again in the next couple days.

  7. music maven

    March 16, 2009 at 7:32 pm

    iTunes now offers DRM-free music so they are actually mp3 files. Just FYI.

  8. JenAdams

    March 17, 2009 at 6:36 pm

    Thanks for the tip MM, but I don’t even want to install iTunes on my computer. It sucks up a lot of resources. We have it on the old desktop downstairs though. Hmmm. Maybe I will go that route. I think I saw something somewhere today that said Best Buy had a copy of it with two of the bonus tracks, but last Thursday my Best Buy didn’t have any. Time to shop online one way or the other, I guess.

  9. JenAdams

    March 19, 2009 at 8:25 pm

    Hey, MM – I bought it today at Wal-Mart. The Ray Charles tune actually sounds a lot like the Wedding Bell Blues one. I’m really enjoying the CD so far though, after 3 listens so far today. Favorites are 7 Mile Breakdown, Keeping It Real, & Woman Got To Have It, although I was surprised I ended up with What’s Right is Right stuck in my head this evening. I was also pleased that the liner included lyrics this time, although the lyrics are loaded with typos and Nineteen is even missing the first few lines.

  10. huckleberryfriend

    March 21, 2009 at 8:01 am

    I seem to be one of the few that is disappointed. My recent purchases have included Van Morrison (Astral Weeks Live and Keep It Simple), Ray LaMontagne (Gossip in the Grain), Melody Gardot (Worrisome Heart), and Allison Krauss and Robert Plant (Raising Sand).

    Whatever it is that these artists have, Taylor needs to find. These artists make me stop and listen, while Taylor’s music just becomes background noise. I haven’t heard Taylor in concert, and from what I read from fans, he is very moving in concert. So maybe he should focus on doing his next CD live.

    I guess I just like the singer he appeared to be on AI more than the “real” Taylor Hicks. I thought he had a lot more Southern soul and blues in him than comes across in this cd. The way his sales have started off, he may be lucky to sell 100,000 copies.

    I have been looking forward to his cd and hoped I would like it. But while a couple of songs are hum worthy, I can’t bring myself to buy the album.

  11. spinshack

    March 23, 2009 at 8:20 am

    Huckleberry, haven’t seen you around in a while, need to stop by your blog again. I agree with you on the album to a large degree; your comparisons to other artists and Hicks.

    I bought the Target version with IAoK on it because that one song provides that sort of stop and listen quality lacking in many of the other tunes. His vocals overall on the base CD just sound so much the same in their intonation, delivery. Too bad the guy can’t record like he can perform live.

  12. thedingoateyobaby

    March 26, 2009 at 3:11 pm

    DD, that was a wonderful review. You really put a lot of thought into it and I wanted to read more. Your very good at this, i think you may have missed your calling.

    I bought his CD, the first one was so bad and the bar was set so low that anything would have been better and this one was….by a country mile. I too heard a lot of country running through it and I believe he could make it in the country world….maybe.

    I love Seven Mile Breakdown and maybe 3 others which is very good for a CD.

    I am not into a different season of Idol and Im digging a different Idol named Adam. he makes me feel a lot like Taylor did back in season five in that I would absolutely DIE were he to be voted off. All I want to see, all I live for (ok, a little over the top drama) is to see and hear him. I wondered if you had seen him and what you may think.

  13. thedingoateyobaby

    March 26, 2009 at 3:12 pm

    DD, that was a wonderful review. You really put a lot of thought into it and I wanted to read more. Your very good at this, i think you may have missed your calling.

    I bought his CD, the first one was so bad and the bar was set so low that anything would have been better and this one was….by a country mile. I too heard a lot of country running through it and I believe he could make it in the country world….maybe.

    I love Seven Mile Breakdown and maybe 3 others which is very good for a CD.

    I am now into a different season of Idol and Im digging a different Idol named Adam. he makes me feel a lot like Taylor did back in season five in that I would absolutely DIE were he to be voted off. All I want to see, all I live for (ok, a little over the top drama) is to see and hear him. I wondered if you had seen him and what you may think.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: