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Joined: 2:52 AM - Feb 08, 2008

6:25 PM - Mar 26, 2012 #1 ... 936/review

Review of "Taylor Hicks" / all music / star pulse

by Stephen Thomas Erlewine

Out of all the millions of words that have been written about American Idol, one topic that's never fully addressed is how the show winds up finding and filling America's forgotten pop music needs. Genres that have been banished from the airwaves for one reason or another -- usually because they didn't fit within the strictly regimented confines of corporate radio -- have resurfaced on the show, whether it's unabashedly square middle of the road pop, old-fashioned deep soul, Southern rock or blue-eyed soul. This may not have been true of the show's first season when the two finalists, Kelly Clarkson and Justin Guarini pretty much fit the bill for TV-produced pop stars -- clean and cute, singing dance-pop designed for the teenagers everyone assumed were AmIdol's core audience -- but things started to veer off track in the show's second season when squeaky-clean Clay Aiken and soul crooner Ruben Studdard constituted the top two. Instead of being a fluke, this was the beginning of American Idol's celebration of neglected styles, leading to the barnstorming soul of Fantasia Barrino in season three, the Southern rock of Bo Bice in season four, and then the white-haired, blue-eyed soul belter Taylor Hicks, who unexpectedly took the top honors in season five.

At first glance Hicks sure didn't seem like an American Idol: with that prematurely white hair and his slightly hefty frame, he seemed like somebody's dad trying to pass as an AmIdol contestant, which was part of his charm. But charm alone doesn't win a singing competition, and Hicks had real power as a singer, blessed with a husky, soulful growl that displayed a clear Ray Charles' influence but an even heavier debt to Joe Cocker and Michael McDonald, two singers raised on Motown and R&B who still retained a soulful edge when they eased into soft rock later in their careers. Hicks picked up on this trick of Cocker and McDonald's, how they could still sound passionate while singing schmaltz, and that helped propel him toward the American Idol championship, but even though he took the crown, there was a huge question looming over the release of his debut album: would 19 Entertainment, Clive Davis and all the powers that be behind the scenes at American Idol let Hicks stay true to the gifts he displayed on the show, or would they shoehorn him into a sound that doesn't suit him, the way they did with Bice on his debut The Real Thing? Bice served as a cautionary tale for Hicks and his producers, since he was another Alabama boy who shined on AmIdol because he was bringing back a Southern sound not heard on the radio, but when it came time for his debut he was forced into a stilted modern rock that not only didn't suit him musically, but it ignored the very reason why audiences loved him on the show: they loved him because he didn't sound like everybody else on the radio, but on The Real Thing, his producers tried to make him sound like everybody else, and failed miserably. The same thing could have happened to Hicks, since he also didn't sound like anybody else on the radio in 2006, but fortunately, everybody involved in Hicks' debut do not try to force modernity upon him: they let Taylor be Taylor.

Which doesn't necessarily mean that Taylor Hicks is nothing but a Doobie Brothers album in disguise: it certainly has tracks that fit within the confines of adult contemporary radio in 2006, but they never feel as crass or formulaic as "Do I Make You Feel Proud," his post-Idol chart-topper that found him straining against the constraints of AC conventions. Cuts that are nothing more than professional and pleasant -- mainly ballads, such as the plodding yet anthemic "Just to Feel That Way" and the Diane Warren-penned "Places I've Been," which was written with Hicks' back story in mind but nevertheless feels formulaic, but also an overly slick cover of Marvin Gaye's "Wherever I Lay My Hat" -- account for about a third of Taylor Hicks, and while they're little more than the perfectly fine fodder of a waiting room, Hicks does not sound uncomfortable singing them. Indeed, he invests them with just enough personality that they're more engaging than the bland yet pretty ballads that pass as modern soft rock, and their inclusion here makes commercial sense; these are the tunes that play by the rules of modern adult pop, and Hicks performs them as a pro without losing his personality. In contrast, the rest of Taylor Hicks is a throwback -- not necessarily a throwback to the Motown and '60s pop that he sang on Idol, but rather to the soft rock and blue-eyed soul of the '70s and '80s, which itself was informed by the spirit of the '60s. And at its best -- and it's frequently very good, even excellent -- Taylor Hicks resembles nothing so much as a forgotten '80s soft rock album, a blend of Michael McDonald, Bridge-era Billy Joel, Hall & Oates and Steve Winwood's Roll with It that certainly satisfies any hopes that Hicks would indeed make a record that could be called Yacht Rock for the new millennium. Digitally polished though it may be, there's a lived-in warmth to the performances of Hicks and his studio pros, and producer Matt Serletic, who made his name helming records for Matchbox Twenty, is sharp enough to retain that feel even when he's building tracks upon samples, as he does on "Heaven Knows," which reworks Ray Charles' "What I'd Say" into an addictive, danceable piece of modern soul-pop. This gives Taylor Hicks a sound that's appealing on its own merits, but what makes the record work are the songs that evoke the past yet still sound fresh. Occasionally, this means something that's been unearthed, like "Gonna Move," a light, laid-back number found on Paul Pena's cult 1973 soul album New Train, but for the most part these are newly-written songs by professional songwriters. Matchbox Twenty's Rob Thomas is the only writer who attempts to bridge the gap between Hicks' retro-soul and contemporary pop, and he does so very well with "Dream Myself Awake," but the best stuff here are the songs that simply revive soulful sounds, whether it's Bryan Adams' surprisingly successful gospel-inflected closer "The Right Place," the neo-duet "Give Me Tonight" or, most of all, the absolutely terrific opener "The Runaround," a propulsive throwback to '80s soul-pop that's as good as any hit Michael McDonald had in that decade. As good as any of these professionally written tunes are Hicks' two originals -- the funky "Soul Thing" and the closest thing to genuine old-fashioned Southern soul, the quite wonderful "The Deal" -- revived and re-recorded from a pre-Idol independent album he made that show him as a solid writer in addition to being an inspired deal. Their inclusion also shows that he, assisted by some smart pros, can make the songs of others fit his musical style, which makes this debut somewhat of a subversive success: he's created an album that fits all of American Idol's requirements -- it's big, clean, catchy and commercial -- without losing his own identity, so he's sneaked blue-eyed soul back into the mainstream. But he never would have gotten this chance if American Idol's huge audience didn't recognize that he had this talent and if they didn't realize that he was making music that they had forgotten to hear, and fortunately, 19 Entertainment, in turn, realized this and let Taylor Hicks make an album that will surely satisfy anybody who loved to hear him on the show, and an album that stands as one of the best Idol-related records yet made.

Joined: 2:52 AM - Feb 08, 2008

6:35 PM - Mar 26, 2012 #2

A Promising Debut

3 Star Rating

.The first album from Taylor Hicks, the winner of this year's American Idol competition, has put together a collection of songs that suffers from the somewhat disorienting experimentation with styles that has become common in first albums from American Idol competitors. However, the most comfortable tunes on the album point in the direction of a distinct, pleasing style that may find a significant pop audience.

Dinner Theater Glitz
Taylor Hicks kicks off with high energy in the form of the song "Runaround," expected to be the albums' first single. However, by the time you've made it halfway through the 3rd cut "Heaven Knows," a nightmarish mashup of "Ain't That Peculiar," cheesy backup vocals, and showman-mode Taylor Hicks, you may question whether you've wandered into a Branson dinner theater. This glitzy, stagey style wears thin quickly. Things don't get much better with a lifeless take on "Wherever I Lay My Hat" and the total mismatch between artist and song that is "Just to Feel That Way" by the writers of Nick Lachey's tearjerker "What's Left of Me."

Settling In
However, halfway through the album it sounds like we hit the music Taylor Hicks was meant to record. He handles "Places I've Been," a trademark Diane Warren tune, just fine, and then sounds completely at home with new recordings of his own songs "Soul Thing" and "The Deal." Hicks sounds completely at home applying his soulful rasp to "The Right Place" by pop rocker Bryan Adams and his songwriting partner Jim Vallance, but then the whole thing is over.

Taylor Hicks has given us a taste of what he can be as a recording artist. He brings back the pleasant side of memories of 70's soft rock from the likes of Michael McDonald and Kenny Loggins with a slightly more soulful edge. Unfortunately, he also seems to have an attraction to an annoying style of showmanship that translates particularly poorly on record.

Top Tracks on 'Taylor Hicks'

•Places I've Been
•Soul Thing
•The Deal
•The Right Place

Above Average American Idol Debut
In the brighter moments on Taylor Hicks, it's easy to see why he was appealing to such a broad range of the American Idol audience. It's also obvious his voice and style can translate well without watching him perform on stage. This collection will please his many fans, sell a significant number of albums, and create a strong argument for a continued investment in Taylor Hicks as a performer.

However, if he allows himself to be swallowed up by a stagey, glitzy alter ego, he may find himself a one-way ticket to celebrity B-list status. I'm on the side of hoping Taylor Hicks can take some cues from Kelly Clarkson and Fantasia and deliver fully on his potential with album number two.


Joined: 2:52 AM - Feb 08, 2008

6:38 PM - Mar 26, 2012 #3 ... -2021.html

Pop Blend

CD Review: Taylor Hicks' Debut
Author: Brian Williamspublished: 2006-12-14 00:00:00

Let me start this off the right way…ahem…Disclaimer: This review was done subjectively and on the basis that I only watched seasons 1 and 5. I’m not a diehard fan of Taylor Hicks, Chris Daughtry, Katherine Mcphee, or any other Idol/Contestant current or otherwise.

I know their respective fans are insanely supportive of their Idols, so I don’t need any Soul Patrol soldiers or Daughtry’s Derelicts or any similar group coming after me for any comments I make. These are just my opinions, folks, nothing more. That being said, here we go…

In my review of Chris Daughtry’s debut, I stated the reasons why I liked him and why I wanted him to lose American Idol 5. Along those same lines, I wanted Hicks to win. Why? He deserved it, plain and simple. Not that his voice is stronger than Daughtry’s (it’s not) or that he lights up a TV screen the way that K. McPhee does in her cleavage-baring yellow dress (he doesn’t). What he had were balls—to be himself, to buck convention and to go after his target audience.

So, does the Hicks’ self-titled debut match the hype and hope surrounding it? Yep, for the most part. But the thing is that when it’s good, it’s good … and when it’s bland, oh boy is it bland. It’s safe to say Hicks ends up batting a solid 8 for 12 as far as the track numbering goes, with the bouncy horns and backing choir vocals of “Heaven Knows” being what most fans are expecting.

“Give Me Tonight” and its funkified pulse add some nice flavor to the mix, minus the fact that Hicks gets a little upstaged by his female counterpart. Despite that, it’s one of the stronger songs and again shows that old school Michael McDonald influence. On the other side of the spectrum, the Ray Charles-like vibe of “The Right Place,” the album’s closer, showcases those soul-powered pipes that made Hicks the Idol winner.

But what about the blandness? “Soul Thing,” I guess Hicks’ attempt to give his Patrol an anthem to rally around, sounds about as moving as a 7th grade love poem. “Gonna Move” takes it up a notch but again falls flat, coming off as contrived and uninteresting. “The Maze,” about the usual wandering-around-like-a-lost-puppy-without-you type theme, gets lumped into that same bland category. “Places I’ve Been,” however, immediately comes to the rescue as Hicks’ voice sounds full of conviction, something missing from “Maze” and some of the other material.

What I’m trying to say, more or less, is the same thing I said about the few other Idol albums I’ve heard—the first ones are a test for the artist and are strictly for the label. I didn’t care for Chris Daughtry’s or for Kelly Clarkson’s. Lucky for KC, she went with her gut for album #2 and came up with some genuinely well-crafted pop-rock hooks. Here’s to Daughtry following suit.

Taylor Hicks’ debut stands above the rest as far as Idol first timers go, but still suffers from some filler issues that keep it from really blowing the other contestants out of the water. I even give him extra points for managing to get Justin Timberlake’s panties in a bunch just by being good.

Equally good is that Hicks still knows his audience, and as long as he sticks with what brought him to the dance in the first place, we’ll probably be watching him get inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame after a long and fruitful career.


Joined: 2:52 AM - Feb 08, 2008

6:40 PM - Mar 26, 2012 #4

The least you can say about Taylor Hicks is that he's not like prior American Idol champs: he already had almost a decade of gigging in bars when he won the fifth season in 2006, complete with songwriting experience, an ability to play harmonica and guitar, and a pair of self-released albums. On his major-label debut, the Silver Fox settles in a plush, comfortable sound framed by vintage-sounding soul and R&B, as well as classic rock--it's comfort food for the ears. The one thing that's not here is Hicks's first single, "Do I Make You Proud." Other than that, the songs are a well-balanced mix of oldies (Marvin Gaye's "Wherever I Lay My Hat"), newbies that sound like oldies (Rob Thomas's "Dream Myself Awake," Bryan Adams's "The Right Place"), the obligatory Diane Warren ballad ("Places I've Been"), and some party-fun anthems ("The Runaround," "Heaven Knows"). This last track actually is one of two paying tribute to Hicks's patron saint, Ray Charles--it references the piano riff from "What'd I Say," while "The Right Place" was originally written for Charles. Clearly, there are worse people to look up to. --Elisabeth Vincentelli