Tag Archive | "Taylor Hicks at the City Winery"

Un-Wined with Taylor Hicks

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Taylor Hicks at the City Winery, New York, New York, May 15, 2011


Does absence truly make the heart grow fonder, or do Taylor Hicks and his band get better with each new concert experience?  Hicks, the consummate professional-literal road warrior, is ever honing his craft, so my guess leans heavily toward the latter.

By circumstance, not design, it had been ten months since I’d seen my favorite musician/singer/songwriter live.  That record was blissfully broken last night at the City Winery in Manhattan.  Yes, Virginia, there is a fully functional winery in the Big Apple.   During his two-plus-hour set, Hicks took full advantage of the nature of this venue, and not just for its pleasant fruits of the grape.  As a native of Alabama, one of the States hard hit by the recent tornadoes, he’d negotiated with the City Winery to offer patrons a bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon bearing a special commemorative label.  $15 from the purchase of each bottle was earmarked for the Red Cross’ relief efforts.

But Hicks took it one step further by inviting representatives of the Red Cross to set up a table in the venue for those who wished to make additional donations.  If that alone doesn’t make you love or respect this man, get a heart check — and I don’t mean an EKG.   Better yet, see the man in concert and leave with your heart lightened.

Wine or no wine, his sets are like roller coasters.  Soothing lows intersperse hairpin turns and exhilarating highs, swinging from structured songs to bluesy-jazzy-rockin’ freeform jams.  Following suit, Taylor’s throat lulls you with his tender drawl and then defies the sound barrier with his powerhouse lungs, which make of the harp (harmonica) a living thing.

Last night’s opening salvo, replete with cowbell, was the frenetic socio-political Compared to What.  If you were in the audience and your heart didn’t pound for that Les McCann and Eddie Harris original, I’d suggest an honest to God EKG.  Hicks then took mercy upon us with his own beautiful, softly aching The Deal.  After literally thousands of plays, this song never burns out for me — even though I’m still wondering in whose voice it was written (Taylor’s, or the woman patiently waiting for him as he tours?). 

While I loved every number, the ultra-superb standouts included a cover of Timmy Thomas’ plea for racial equality, Why Can’t We Live Together, with Taylor’s yearning, soulful pipes making this a particularly bittersweet beauty; Hicks’ own Hold Onto Your Love, escalating from a light reggae lilt to a full-on, Latin-flavored rock out, the most funkified version I’ve ever heard of My City is Gone (for which Chrissie Hynde and her Pretenders will want to slap me upside my head because I always envision Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young’s very poignant and very different Ohio the minute this song opens); the tender-brutal Hicks-Nicholas-Reid collaboration Maybe You Should, which, to paraphrase Roberta Flack, kills me softly; I Live on a Battlefield, the Nick Lowe-Paul Carrack squeeze your eyes ’til they bleed blues rocker, and a Southern rock-fest, Seven Mile Breakdown, with which Hicks shares songwriting credit with former band mate Wynn Christian.

Into Breakdown, Taylor inserted snippets of Bruce Hornsby’s Long Valley Road and Running on Empty, the Jackson Brown jaw-dropper that lays me out cold with the Dickensian lyric, “Try not to confuse what you do, with what you do to survive.”  

Nineteen, and Taylor’s verbal intro to it, stopped the heart in my chest for one painful moment.  Written by Jeffrey Steel, Gary Nicholson, and Tom Hambridge and appearing on Taylor’s independently released CD The Distance, Nineteen is the tale of a fallen soldier, all of nineteen years old.   Live, Taylor never fails to dedicate this song to our troops.  But last night, he included the NYFD (New York Fire Department) in the dedication.  The winery is not situated far from Ground Zero, and I am a New Yorker.  I couldn’t believe that this man from Alabama remembered the firefighters taken from us on 9/11.  I’m sure that he meant to thank New York’s Finest — our police force — as well, as he bowed to all civil servants who sacrifice so much to keep us the rest of us safe.  At the tail end of this song, Jeff Lopez picked up the flute and, with the other instruments silent, trilled an eerie, moving solo: Dixie.

The New York Yankees had their Core Four, and so does the Taylor Hicks band.  Along with Taylor, they are the afore-mentioned Jeff Lopez, the only musician I have ever seen play two horns simultaneously and to perfection, the deceptively quiet Sam Gunderson, who can murder you and send you to blues heaven in one fell swoop on a single guitar string, and Brian Less, heir not by blood but by musicality to Jerry Lee Lewis’ keyboard mastery.  The other very worthy musicians were Leif Bondarenko, who commanded the drums, David Keith who added nuance with the congas, and Brandon Peeples, thrumming alternately on bass guitar and double bass.

Last night, guest guitarist Jaime McLean joined the lineup.  When Jamie played his electric box with Sam, you could have cremated me then and there and I’d have met my Maker happy.

I’ve said it before, but it won’t stop me from saying it again.  If you want a heart lift, if you love real music, check out the very real Taylor Hicks and his exceptional band! 

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