With his latest single "Seven Mile Breakdown," Taylor Hicks is reaching out to the country market. A highlight from his recent album The Distance, the bluesy rocker has been given a twangy makeover courtesy of award winning engineer/producer Chuck Ainlay. The single mix, one minute shorter than the album version, features a prominent piano part throughout as well as some strategically placed fiddling. Ainlay managed to keep the essence of the song the same, since there was already a distinctly country feel to the album version of the song. Hicks' powerhouse lead vocal remains front and center, while the new elements blend smoothly with the original track.
This isn't the first time Hicks has ventured into country territory. In his pre-fame days, he recorded a demo in Nashville consisting of a few early originals. His thick Alabama accent already lends itself well to the genre, but more importantly the songs translated effectively. The unreleased Nashville recording of "The Fall" could've been a smash on the country charts. In his autobiography, Heart Full of Soul, Hicks' expressed dissatisfaction with the results of those sessions. These days, considering all the undeserved brickbats being hurled his way, he needs to catch a break somewhere. "Seven Mile Breakdown" could prove to be a real breakthrough.
The first single from The Distance, "What's Right Is Right," performed fairly well on Billboard's Adult Contemporary chart, spending the last three months in the Top 30. It wasn't necessarily the best choice for lead-off single though. It's a somewhat formulaic pop/soul ballad with a restrained lead vocal. The first time I heard the entire album, "Seven Mile Breakdown" stood out as an ideal showcase for Hicks' strengths. Given the potential for a country crossover hit, it's a smart choice as follow-up single. When he delivered a rousing rendition of the song on American Idol's Top Five elimination week, it seemed like 2006 all over again. Hopefully many viewers were reminded of why they voted him winner that year.
The song's video debuted this week, and if there's any justice CMT is paying attention. The clip for "What's Right Is Right" was rather somber, with Hicks performing the song in a smokey club. While by no means poorly done, the argument could easily be made that it wasn't going to command the attention of a casual viewer. The "Seven Mile Breakdown" video seems geared toward winning some new fans. As simple as it is, with Hicks playing the song in an open field to a small gathering of fans, there is a sense of fun that compliments the song's mood.
Taylor Hicks is the greatest talent to come out of American Idol, but has struggled finding a wide audience. Plagued by ridiculously overwrought – and entirely unjustified – bad press, the more easily convinced sector of the public has bought into the bogus idea that his Idol victory was a "mistake." If releasing a country remix of "Seven Mile Breakdown" will help him gain wider exposure, ultimately leading to more quality music, then more power to him.