Taylor Hicks’ new album, The Distance is a surprising mix of soul, rock, blues, country and even a little Bossa Nova. The Distance is the first album to be released on Hicks’ own label, Modern Whomp Records. The album features an array of notable musicians who have long history of recording with rock, blues and country artists. Producer Simon Climie boasts an extensive list of credits and has recently produced albums for Eric Clapton, Chaka Kahn and Michael McDonald.
The Distance boasts several stand-out tracks. Two of the most notable are the southern rocker “Seven Mile Breakdown,” and the piano soul ballad “Maybe You Should.” “Seven Mile Breakdown” is a re-working of a blues track written a few years ago by Wynn Christian. Christian previously worked with Hicks on some of Hicks’ pre-Idol independent tracks. Hicks shares a writing credit on this updated version, which is an Allman Brothers styled blues rock song that has great country crossover potential. “Seven Mile Breakdown” should be the next single. It’s a memorable song that exemplifies Hicks’ blues style that has been forgotten by many of Hicks’ critics. “Maybe You Should” is an emotional track about lost love. The song is genuine and mature, and has a nice raw feel with its minimal piano accompaniment.
Though Hicks is attempting to incorporate several different styles of music on this album, he manages to keep most of the tracks within a sphere that suits his style. “Wedding Day Blues” is a comedic fantasy about winning back an ex-lover on her wedding night. One of the more interesting tracks is the Latin/Soul “Once Upon A Lover.” It’s an unexpected sound from Hicks who sings the song in a seldom heard upper range. “I Live On A Battlefield” is a cover of a song originally done by Nick Lowe. It’s a nice catchy tune well sung by Hicks. The song that opens the album, “The Distance” (the album’s title track) an upbeat Springsteenesque rock tune that is fun listen. One of the albums highlights is the final track “Woman’s Got To Have It” featuring fellow Idol contestant Elliott Yamin. The song was written and recorded by legendary songwriter Bobby Womack in 1972. Hicks and Yamin complement each other well on the track, and it’s great to hear them together.
There are only a couple of missteps on the album. The most head-scratching of which is “Keepin’ It Real.” The verses share a similar melody to the much maligned country hit “Achy Breaky Heart.” But even more bizarre are the lyrics, which seem to be about Britney Spears’, Paris Hilton’s and OJ Simpson’s lives in the spotlight. Strangely this is the only track to feature Hicks’ trademark harmonica playing. It’s the one track I wish someone had talked Hicks into leaving off the album. The only other notably weak track is “New Found Freedom.” It is a bit of a generic rock song that is somewhat clichéd lyrically.
Hicks is credited as a writer on seven the eleven tracks on The Distance. One of the songs not written by Hicks is the country ballad “Nineteen.” The song has been floating around the country music world for a couple of years but has not had any impact as of yet. It’s a nice patriotic song about a young man who sacrifices everything to serve his country. I’m not sure the straight country style suits Hicks as well it could, however, Hicks sings it with a sincerity and conviction that ultimately makes the song work. The album’s first single,” What’s Right Is Right,” was written by album producer Simon Climie. It’s an okay song, but lacks any real excitement. However it is a pleasant listen and well sung by Hicks.
Overall The Distance is a solid album with plenty to please Taylor Hicks fans. There are several memorable tracks that show off Taylor as a serious musician and singer. The album does have a “please everybody” type of feel instead of a more raw sound that would be better suited for Hicks’ talents. It would also be nice to hear a lot more of Hicks’ harmonica playing. It’s a bit of a puzzle as to why Hicks would not want to emphasize something he is so good at. But the albums strengths lie in Hicks’ strengths. He is an engaging and strong vocalist who clearly cares about his music. The Distance is well worth the listen.
The Distance will be released on March 10th.