Taylor Hicks fans received an unexpected treat this past week when his new album, "The Distance", set to hit the market on March 10th, previewed on kol.com for a listening party. While I questioned why kol.com, a notably kid centric on-line venue for well, kid stuff, I surmised it was his American Idol ties that put him there. Certainly not many in the teeny bopper crowd who follow Demi Lavato, The Jonas Brothers (who have a new 3-D movie coming to a town near you) and Miley Cyrus would be into Taylor as an artist nor see him in concert.
Now I don't have a copy in my hand - of this new body of plastic - it's not easy finding details on-line about the lyrics or the musicians involved in each tune to comment of those intriguing bits of necessary ingredients for real review. Information pops up - information goes back. So what you get right now, today, dear readers, is simply a summation of initial good old gut reaction. For some it may be gut wrenching but remember I write with my tongue in my cheek, but yes, occasionally my red-haired roots get involved and that attached temper comes to the fore. You've been forewarned.
I sat and listened through every track on the CD, "The Distance". I invited my man and then later, a few friends, Guy, Frank and Pete, to hear what Mr. Hicks had to bring to the music table this time around - to gain a 'balanced' opinion. Balanced in so far as our little ensemble is able; imagine five clowns on a unicycle. Like that.
Consensus reached: the songs, "The Distance", "What's Right Is Right", "New Found Freedom", and "Nineteen" all on about the same level. Tunes with inspirational undertones composed of similar emotion and thought process. Very Americana in feel and theory. "New Found Freedom" has an especially "Up With People" vibe, two of my sick and twisted pals orchestrated a special arms waving dance to that tune.
"Nineteen", is a tear-jerker with sentiment expressed in story-telling country angst including a subtle country accent delivered by Mr. Hicks. This song concerns the troops in Iraq, war message laments the loss of those paying the ultimate sacrifice. These first four tracks hang out well together. Main criticism, Mr. Hicks' vocals while sounding good - the guy can sing, in his range, hold a similarity in the way each tune is vocally delivered.
Following those four Americana Moments, the CD dives South of the border, or perhaps simply into South Texas. "Once Upon a Lover of Mine" carries a Latin flair with a salsa beat, but it lacks the Latin pronunciations. Mr. Hicks says "Senorita" just like most 'gringos' without that rolling 'r'. While this song has the beat, it lacks the believability. Maybe a Ricky Martin accent would have helped. (I kid, I kid.) If there would have been castanets and a guy loaded on tequila doing a grito it would have been perfect as background for the local El Chico. I know this sounds in opposition with what I've written but I sort of enjoyed this tune and not in the 'Gee wouldn't cheese enchiladas hit the spot right now' kind of way.
Leaving Mexico the listener heads North of the border or if you're in Dallas, Texas, due East with the tune, "Seven Mile Breakdown". This tune found all in our group united, even Darling Man. Consensus held, one of the best songs heard so far on the CD; the guys had to dive into their Spoonful of James' (Wynn Christian) man-love moments. Long live Austin, Texas.
"Maybe You Should" brought mixed results for our little listening party. The song is a more subdued offering, appealed more to my female tastes than to the guys, one of whom excused himself saying he had to go grab some coffee soon after it began. I'd like to listen to this one a few more times and come March 10th I will be able to do just that; it's an intriguing little mournful tune.
Then it happened. Reality stepped in my face and Taylor Hicks broke my achy breaky heart. "Keeping It Real", in a complete twist of mullet-haired irony lifted note for note that Billy Ray Cyrus hit, "Achy Breaky Heart". We all sat for a moment looking at one another. Dumbfounded. Frank laughed, Guy joined him, Darling Man declared, well that is the clincher, "He's now known to me as Taylor Hacks". (ouch) Frank had to put on Cyrus' Youtube and they all danced around the desks two-stepping. It was funny yet mildly horrific. Guy pulled out a few internet articles about other artists who had done similar things on their albums, borrowed a guitar riff here, a lyric chain there, to the tune of Not Good in the legal beagle field. I commented perhaps Mr. Hicks had permission to use that tune. It is entirely possible. Possible but still, man, "Achy Breaky Heart"? Are you kidding me?
"I Live on a Battlefield" brought me some solace, it is a good tune, but the vocals were reminiscent of what we heard in the first four songs. Plus, I was still smarting over the achy breaky tune. "Wedding Day Blues" holds a bluegrass vibe, catchy but could have used a more sly treatment, vocally; would have provided it much more character.
"Woman's Got to Have It" one of my favorites from this CD has Taylor and Elliot Yamin in a soulful duet, carrying a decided Motown feel. This tune moves and grooves along just what a listener might expect from a combination of Elliot and Taylor Hicks. My guypals liked it as well but they still couldn't get past that achy breaky moment. I had to keep yelling at them to shut off Cyrus and sit down.
Taylor Hicks' song delivery in much of this CD ("Seven Mile Breakdown" and "Woman's Got to Have It" excluded) as well as in that Idol CD remind me of folks who are not use to public speaking or reading off a teleprompter. Oftentimes there's a lack of real phrasing, an over pronouncing of his words, I heard this on the Idol CD as well. Hicks will deliver this straight forward singing style that loses some of the soul and heart of the song. It's like something strange happens to him in that studio sound booth. Governor Bobby Jindal and his Republican address to the President's speech to Congress the other night comes to mind.
I realize some of Taylor's older fans like that sort of thing, they want to hear every single word clearly. I'm not intending to insult those fans, but I find mystery in the tunes, the unique phrasing brought to the song as important as the forced mystery of the man's persona. The over simplification of the lyrical delivery being broken down to proper enunciation at all times smacks of some sort of Speech class erudition. It's like that speaker who, when he's in a room full of other people, everyone talking, is funny, charming, well-spoken; put that charming person up on a podium - all composure departs. They stand there robotically reciting their lines with a mannequin face.
I'm still smarting from that Billy Ray song, I admit I got worked up over it. I erupted into a volcanic fit over the ideology of plagiarism to the point of packing up my box of crayons and going home. I was not in the mood to play with anyone anymore that day. Or the next. I realize Mr. Hicks owes me nada, zilch, it's not my place to throw myself screaming, face down on the carpet in a tantrum over that random irony of "Keeping it Real" to the tune of another guy's mullet-haired hit. That still doesn't offset my carpet burns across my nose for doing exactly that.
It's not my place either, to demean anyone else seriously in need of a writing class for receiving a copy of this CD to review first over anyone else. The poor gal may lack some very basic skills, and is unable to realize the proper times to use words such as 'then' and 'than', 'to' and 'too' and 'by' and 'buy'. It was not envy that made me speak up over her caveat, rather yet another random act of intrinsic irony that often circles around this man's career. Hell, why would I even expect to receive a copy to review? I'm just a blogger, not a writer like that dear lady.
I'll end this post today by adding I hate and despise plagiarism. Taking music, lyrics to create your own work not a "Taylor-Smart" move like I've been reading said on some of the fan sites. This is not brilliant marketing.
That said, we may discover at a later date, Billy Ray gave Hicks his blessing to use the tune. But still, "Achy Breaky Heart"? Seriously? What's next Mr. Hicks, a gray mullet?
Billy Ray Cyrus strutting his stuff: Achy Breaky Heart