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Music Review: Taylor Hicks – The Distance

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These days everyone seems all too eager to beat up on Taylor Hicks. Many people have forgotten the reasons why he won the ultra-competitive fifth season of American Idol. His victory has been written off as some kind of accident, as if he wasn’t a great performer. To the naysayers, I say this: he was, and still is, a fantastically talented singer/songwriter. That much is in obvious evidence on The Distance, Hicks’ newly released second album.

At its best, The Distance makes up for the shortcomings of 2006’s Taylor Hicks, which was released shortly after his Idol win. The earlier album, though not without shining moments, was the result of a production team unsympathetic to Hicks’ strengths.

Now, with producer Simon Climie on board, we can hear Hicks’ as nature intended — no synths, drum programming, or ill-advised Ray Charles samples (all of which were heard on the debut). The Distance isn’t as raw as it could’ve been, with some too-smooth production on a few tracks, but by and large this album should put to rest doubts about Hicks’ skills. At least for those who give it a fair shot.

The first half of the album aims to cover as much stylistic ground as reasonably possible. The title track, the first of seven Hicks’ songwriting credits, is a slice of heartland rock that wouldn’t sound out of place on a John Mellencamp album. A non-partisan plea for setting aside political differences in favor of working towards a common goal, “The Distance” is a great opener and a highlight of the album.

From there on, the mood shifts frequently, touching on soul (“What’s Right Is Right”), funky pop (“New Found Freedom”), country (“Nineteen”), and Latin rhythms (“Once Upon A Lover”). “Nineteen” would make an especially good choice as a future single, with its timely theme of paying tribute to a fallen soldier. Hicks’ powerful reading of this song might help it find a home on the Country charts.

With “Seven Mile Breakdown,” Hicks’ is in his element. He tears through this bluesy number with passionate conviction. “Maybe You Should,” a ballad co-written by Hicks and Mike Reid (who wrote the classic “I Can’t Make You Love Me”), is even better. This somber ode to a failed relationship stands out as the single best track on the album. The vocal is absolutely restrained, yet it conveys his resigned heartbreak vividly. In a recent interview, Hicks said he considers this one of his best songs. He has every reason to be proud of it.

There are bonus tracks available on The Distance, depending on where it’s purchased from. The iTunes version contains a cover of the funk classic “Yes We Can.” This song, written by Allen Toussaint and first recorded by Lee Dorsey way back in 1970, is the weakest of the three available exclusives. Hicks offers up a strangely dispassionate interpretation that won’t make anyone forget the Pointer Sister’s definitive version from 1973.

Much better is the Wal-Mart bonus, a cover of a largely forgotten Ray Charles hit, “Hide Nor Hair.” It’s a fun song that allows Hicks to pay tribute to his hero. Best of all is the Target exclusive, a stellar reading of Foy Vance’s “Indiscriminate Act Of Kindness.” This seven minute, sparsely arranged tune displays the full range of Hicks’ vocal skills.

Though the sales figures haven’t been particularly strong so far, it should be noted that The Distance is an independent release. Without much promotion the album is struggling to gain attention. Keep in mind though that this time last year many were declaring Hicks’ career dead in the water. He lost his record contract and was all but abandoned by Idol.

Yet since then, he’s played to sold-out theaters on Broadway and all around the country in Grease, released an excellent compilation of pre-Idol recordings (Early Works), and now has a new album on Billboard’s Top Ten Independent chart. As he sings in one of The Distance‘s best tracks, “I live on a battlefield.”

Taylor Hicks is a survivor and is obviously bound and determined to continue earning a living doing what’s in his blood: making music.

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About The Other Chad

Hi, I'm Chaz Lipp. An old co-worker of mine thought my name was Chad. Since we had two Chads working there at the time, I was "The Other Chad."
  • Alyag

    Absolutely right on – finally someone saying it like it is. The album is fantastic. Every person, young and old that I have given the album too finds it entertaining and great music. Thanks for the great review on a great entertainer and musician/song writer.

  • http://www.taylorhicksblues.blogspot.com Jewels

    Absolutely agree with your assessment on “Indiscriminate Act of Kindness”. One of the best recordings I have ever heard from Taylor.

    Balanced review that gives Hicks credit where it’s due.

  • TESSA

    I so agree! This album is great – love, love, love Maybe You Should. I also love the bonus track from Walmart – Hide nor Hair! That is really Taylormade! Lots of different styles on this album, not the same song each track. Love it! Good luck to Taylor he is so deserving – what an entertainer!

  • PCat

    Thanks for giving the album a listen. What a musical breath of fresh air … actual freakin’ instruments and the best instrument of all … Taylor’s distinctive voice.

    Since his MySpace media player now features “19,” it looks like you may get your wish about a run at the country charts.

  • Kathy

    I love this CD. The song Once Upon a Lover is the hottest Latin flavored song since Rob Thomas and Santana’s SMOOTH. Also, I can not say enough about this man in concert. He is electrifying.

  • susan11

    Thank you. It is nice to hear someone review Taylor that really did listen.
    Its a great album.

  • J

    Thank you so much for this great review…Taylor is the true musician and performer. This review was a pleasure to read and so happy that see the true Taylor in this album…

  • George

    What a pleasure to read a review from someone who has actually listened to the album. Thank you. The trashing of Taylor since his Idol win has been despicable but he has kept plodding along, doing what he was born to do. This album is a delight to listen to. I am so glad Taylor went out on his own to do his kind of music.

  • Carol

    Loved your review of this cd! It’s one of my favorites ever. There is so much on this one cd! Different genres and all real music…great vocals and great instrumentation! It’s the real deal and there’s something here for most everyone! I agree that “Maybe You Should” is a fantastic song, sung quietly, with passion, but not oversung. Love the words and the meaning and love the delivery. I have other favorites, too, because depending on the mood, I find one that fits. This is a cd that I can listen to all of it. I never skip over any of the songs. All are done well. Some serious, some totally fun, but all wonderful! Great cd by a great artist who, I think, got a very raw deal from some of his “friends” at American Idol and Arista Records.

  • virginia

    thank you so much for listening to the cd and then reviewing it i love, maybe you should and indiscriminate act of kindness but the whole cd has great songs on it that everyone can enjoy

  • Saundra

    Oh, my! I cannot tell you how much I enjoyed your review of The Distance. “Maybe You Should” is my absolute favorite as well, but each track is like a fantastic musical journey Taylor Hicks so carefully leads us on. It is everything and more than I imagined his long-awaited cd would be, and I can’t wait until I can see him in concert performing THESE songs! HURRY to Texas, Taylor!

  • Linda

    Finally, a review with music sensibility and sensitivity. Thank you for “getting it” with Taylor and encouraging others to explore the real and talented Taylor Hicks…a great, fair and balanced”, honest review!

  • emmarude43

    I love your review. I love the cd too. I hope all of the Soul Patrol and Taylor gets to read this review.
    Thanks

  • Katie

    Thanks for an honest approach to Taylor and his album. This sophomore album is fantastic for the listener, who wants to hear Taylors voice front and center, but who also loves awesome musicians. The band he has assembled is second to none. I agree that Maybe You Should is a standout. Now to get more airplay for this artist!

  • Mary Lou

    Can’t wait for my next check so I can make a run to walmart … IF I have enough after bills that is. Taylor has been screwed by AI and I think they should be thoroughly ashamed. The night Taylor did his audition on AI I was planning on killing myself due to my lousy existance but when I saw him I perked up and spent hours voting for him and telling others about him so they could vote.

    Thank you Taylor for saving my life and for being you.

  • Laur

    The first paragraph alone should be mass emailed to every naysayer out there!

  • Janice

    “The first paragraph alone should be mass emailed to every naysayer out there!”

    Attention: Simon Cowell, Nigel Lythgoe, Randy “Dawg” Jackson, etc

  • Pat Bazemore

    Now this is a review! Thank you for taking the time to listen and for judging the CD on its merits and not on the fact that it was put out by an AI winner. Taylor is a super performer and seems to be a really nice guy, taking the high road since AI and not replying in kind to the put downs. A real class act and an act that I try to catch as often as possible. Everyone do yourselves a favor and catch him in concert. As they say, you ain’t seen nothing yet! Thank you for this super review.

  • Dana

    So nice to hear a fair and balanced review from someone who obviously actually took the time to listen to the music and the voice. Thank you for listening with an open “ear” and mind. I don’t see how anybody could not enjoy hearing “real” music with real instruments and a real voice. And, most people likely don’t realize that Taylor probably had a *huge* hand in the arrangement too. I’m so glad that Taylor has moved forward despite the media’s obvious and blatent disregard for his talents.

  • Lee

    Thank you. It was good to read a real review and not just someone adding an insult because it has become the thing to do.
    This album is something to be very proud of, indeed.

  • Kathleen

    Thank you so much for a great and well deserved review. I love this CD. It is much better than his first CD, although I still listen to it faithfully. American Idol has all but thrown Taylor under the bus, and that is a shame. I do not expect to see Taylor singing on any of the upcoming shows like Kelly Clarkson did to promote her new CD. That is a shame, because these contestants could learn a lot from Hicks. He is the most unique AI winner, and the most under-rated. I love Taylor – soul patrol!!

  • anne

    Great review. taylor brings us such a well rounded and diverse cd . great vocals. love the cd.

  • What’s Next???

    Heres what I do not get, every one talks about the low cd sales #’s YET not one of Tay’s songs is on the radio. If ppl are not looking for Tay they will not find him. The hard core fans of course are up on every issue reguarding this performer BUT the average person who is not at home during the day for the day time talk shows will not have heard about the new cd. HELL PEOPLE when I went to Grease ppl at the show had no idea Tay has a new cd. Come on now this really is getting old. Put WRIR, The Distance, 7ml Brkdn, or New Found Glory on a freakin country station and be done with this entire pop/AC station crap.

    OK I’m done with my yet.

  • judy m

    LOVE the review. So glad to see someone understands Taylor and his music. The album is fabulous, every song a different genre, something for everyone!! Taylor is a class act… and fabulous LIVE!! Can’t wait to see him in Seattle.

  • Anna

    What do you mean in your comment ‘What’s Next?’ I don’t quite get what you are trying to say when you say ‘this is getting old’. You are right that people don’t know about Taylor’s new cd if they are already looking for it. But why would WRIR or New Found Freedom be on Country radio when they are not country songs in the slightest bit? 7 Mile I can sort of see, and def 19 as the review said. But you cant just expect anything to get played on country radio.

    Actually in case you didnt know, WRIR is on the radio in my area and many other markets which is why it has been in the AC chart for seven weeks.

  • Trixi

    Thanks for a fair and straight forward review. It’s nice to read some journalism that isn’t filled with snide remarks and insults.

    Great cd Taylor…

  • freddy fendering

    Welcome back

  • loud rocky

    I realy like Taylor – great in person and his cds have all been very good. I don’t like every track on any cd I’ve ever bought – so there are one or two on the 3 he has released that I’m not so keen on – but the others – come on – better than most music out there. I think AI was the worst thing that could have happened to him – maybe he could have gotten on a talk show to showcase his music or maybe one of the on line music video sites would have been better. AI made him a household name and then boom – they hate him – Well he has fans out there – he is working, making music and I hope happy. Keep on doing what you do. I’m happy in my job and that’s all that matter to me!

  • Carl Esker

    Still the best AI contestant ever and I will always buy his music!

  • nancy Larson

    Listening for the 3rd time through “the Distance.” It is absolutely the best of Taylor Hicks, who is fearless in sharing his life and heart through music. He is a great talent that deserves attention and to be honored with genuine composers and talented musicians. Love it!
    Lynn