Tag Archive | "Taylor Hicks"

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! 


Taylor Hicks: The Next Voice You Hear

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Well, Taylor’s voice is not exactly the next voice you’ll hear, but you get the idea.  To hear the complete audio (technical glitches omitted) of Write On New Jersey’s own Kathleen Felleca’s groundbreaking interview with American Idol winner Taylor Hicks, simply click the triangle-shaped “Play” button on the media player below:


 

 

 For you diehard fans, you may want to check out all of our articles about Taylor Hicks by clicking on the article titles below:

 

 

While you’re listening to the interview, you may also want to view the photos below.  They, along with the photo atop this article, were provided Write On New Jersey by accomplished photographer John Felleca.

 

 

 


 

 

 

A Conversation with Taylor Hicks

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Most people fantasize about winning the lottery, kissing their jobs goodbye, and flying off to an island to romp carefree under the sun.  Not me.  For the past four and a half years, my fantasy has been to sit somewhere quietly with Taylor Hicks, the monumentally talented singer, songwriter, musician, and arranger. Just as Taylor was becoming American Idol’s most distinctive winner, I found his original music (most of which now appears as the re-mastered compilation, “Early Works”).  For five hours, I sat and played that music over and over and over, crying quietly, for it moved me like no other music ever had.  The more information I gobbled up about Taylor Hicks, the more I understood that — after wallowing in a desert of soulless music for too long and retreating back into my old music — I had finally found a new artist of talent and integrity.


Moreover, I’d found a real music geek, just like myself.  I knew the joy and relief that Stanley must have felt upon locating Dr. Livingston — because in my entire life, this was the first time I’d found another person who seemed to live and breathe music.  Taylor’s obvious devotion to his music is pure, in the way that so few things are pure now.  Every time I saw him perform live, he drove this home to me. So, I harbored the fantasy of talking music with him one day, really digging deep.  I fantasized about a little table in a quiet corner of a small club, where we might talk. What I got instead, and what I’m supremely grateful for, was a phone conversation.


Yesterday, July 22, 2010, God and the wonderful Judy Katz Public Relations team were good to me.  I was fortunate enough to speak with Taylor just before he embarks upon his latest tour, burning up stages across the nation once more.  That tour kicks off this Sunday, July 25th, at the Highline Ballroom in New York City, with his incredible band of friends and gifted fellow musicians.


Sean Katz facilitated the conversation, which, long story short, prompted Taylor to call me back from a landline in the airport as he prepared to wing off to my city (New York).  I have to say to you that, in addition to being a damned fine music man, Taylor Hicks is the most patient, most gracious soul, a true Southern gentleman.


The italics below indicate my words; the bold facing indicates Taylor’s. As our conversation began, Sean patched us in, saying, “Taylor, you’ve got Kathleen from Write On New Jersey.”


Oh you lucky man! (Laughing) 

 

Hey, Kathleen.  How you doin’?

 

Hi, Taylor; how you doin’?  Welcome back to the Big Apple!  Thank you so much for doing this; I know you’re jammed, so I really want to thank you so much for doing this.

 

Oh, no problem; thanks for doing this.

 

Oh, please —  you’re a sweetheart.  So now … I hear you’re going to go The Beatles and U2 one step better by “Taking it to the Streets,” instead of taking it to a rooftop, on Sunday (July 25th) via Fox & Friends.  [Readers can tune in to the Fox & Friends TV show that morning, to enjoy a live mini-concert outside the studio.]

 

Oh yes, yes I am.  I’m pretty excited about that.  I’m really a big fan of the show, Fox & Friends.  I’m excited about kicking off the national tour, and getting out and playing some great live music. 

 

Definitely.  Definitely!  I’m looking forward to it.  I’ll see you Sunday!  Okay, so here’s something for you now.  The first piece of music I remember hearing — I was three years old — it was Mario Lanza — opera —  with all the pain and the passion and the love. It just set the standard for me for every other piece of music afterward. What do you consciously remember as the first piece of music you heard and how did it hit you; how did it affect you?

 

I would have to say, the first piece of music I recall hearing … y’know, it was probably a 70s, AM, golden [oldie].  Late ’70’s.  I was maybe 4 or 5 years old, hearing really great music on the radio.  I was in my learning process of music.  It was just a really great time for the radio, to have all of that stuff, to just be able to soak all of that in.  Y’know?

  

Yeah. Very cool music, then.  Okay. Neil Young’s “Heart of Gold”.  Now, Neil is saying that this heart of gold is somewhere in some unmapped mine, and [he’s] digging for it.  When you wrote “Hell of a Day,” you actually penned the line — and it’s a brilliant line, Taylor — “I’ve been working with the heart’s metallurgy.”  That sort of intimates something else:  that you actually have to work at crafting a relationship. Did Neil Young’s song at all influence you in writing “Hell of a Day?”

 

You know, as much as I have to admit it, as much as I love that song, I really didn’t base it … I didn’t really pull from Neil Young’s material.  But I completely see how there could be comparisons between the two.  I’ve always enjoyed that word [metallurgy].  Obviously, you have to do some studying to get that word.

  

True.

  

But I’m very happy about that song.  I think it’s one of the better ones I’ve written.

  

Yeah, it’s a great song; you know, all your songs are, and some of them just hit you more than others.  Okay.  James Taylor’s “Fire and Rain” is a song about terrible loss and other things as well, that we don’t need to go into now.  When he tours, this is the song that most people want to hear.  And yet it’s that sad, sad song.  Do you think that if a song like that — or even that particular song — were released to radio today, do you think that audiences would embrace it? Or do you think that they’ve just become jaded to the shit — excuse me — that’s on the radio now?

  

Well, I think country music would embrace it.


You do?

  

Yeah.  But as far as popular radio, I don’t think they would have any idea about it.   Y’know, for me, I think that country music is where you can still find great songs.  And I think you can find great songs in popular music [commercial radio], but you gotta dig.  It’s about the package in pop music, and not really about the song itself.


Right.  Not so much about the artist.

  

Yeah.


So, you think country music because they still like to tell stories, because there’s still a lot of emotion there?

  

Yeah.  It’s very story-oriented and it’s just … it’s just that way.

  

Yeah. Cool.  Okay.  Well, you and I — and I don’t know if you remember this, but — in the wings of the Brooks Atkinson [the Brooks Atkinson Theatre on Broadway, where Taylor portrayed Teen Angel in Grease, summer of 2008], we started to have this conversation about Steve Winwood’s Arc of a Diver — the album, not the song [single].  You told me you thought it was his masterpiece and I didn’t really agree.  I think I know why you think that, but if you could just share with me, so I don’t make an assumption.

  

Well, you know, when you think of an artist’s masterpiece, you just think of everything that they do.  I think for the time, the 80s — the early ’80s — when you’re going from real, very organic instrumentation on recorded music to more synthesized music … I mean, this was the brink of the 80s music … and for him to be able to bridge the gap between the two, but do it in such a soulful way.  And not only that, but to have great songs!  I feel that was the height of his creativity.

 

And also, when you’re talking about creativity, you’re looking back on it.  Bridging a gap between synthesized music and traditional music, and I think that he did that with such grace.  And you know, I just think every song is great.  When I think of “City to City,” by Jerry Rafferty … to be able to pull that off on the brink of the 80s craze, the 80s music, which is more synthesized pop …

 

Techno-pop. 

 

Yeah, I think he did that well.

 

He did, he did.  And considering he also had that whole very traditional English music background, as well as all the island music, in him.  Okay, so … God forbid you find yourself ship wrecked on a desert island —

 

(Humorous snort.)

 

You’re all alone but you have your Ipod.  The moment that you realize there is no hope, ain’t nobody comin’ for ya, you’re all alone, what one song do you play to give you comfort and courage?

  

Ah … “Will the Circle Be Unbroken?”

 

Oh.  (I got a bit choked up.) That’s cool.  That’s cool.  Thank you.

 

I think you are a great songwriter, I really think you are.  Obviously, I am not alone!  You have the ability to capture very vivid imagery in just a handful of lyrics.  Like, “Who gets lost when the map is full?”  “Feel the heat in the cold; cut the air with a knife.”  When you write, do the lyrics come to you that way or do you have to kind of … because, I write for a living and I’m constantly manipulating and massaging and pounding.  Sometimes it just comes and it’s great, and I don’t touch it.  And other times I really need to do that.  How do the lyrics come to you?

 

Y’know, you have to really be practical about lyrics, in a way.  The more practical you can be about ’em, the better off that you are.  You have to be able to make sense.  But to a certain degree, y’know, tongue in cheek is not a bad idea as well.  I mean, people love that.  It’s not tongue in cheek, it’s more like words that are every day.  Y’know?

 

Yeah.  “Keepin’ it Real”, right?

 

Yeah!

 

What was the last artist or band that you saw perform live?

 

Widespread Panic.

 

Oh my God (laughing).  That was just a few weeks ago, right?

 

Yeah.

 

I just gave a friend of mine their “Choice Cuts” and she’s lovin’ it.  I just played  “Fishwater,” by the way, just before you called — you know, when you sat in with them.  Listen, my friend.   You could have melted the metal on that harp!!!

 

I appreciate that.

 

Oh, God, that was like … run me over and then come back and resurrect me.  You were amazing.  That, in particular, was just an amazing harp solo.  And the one you did in Millersville, Pennsylvania in October 2007 … the song where you learned to play harp to, you know, when you were playing to air conditioners [to mimic the sounds] … y’know, I’m gettin’ old!

 

“Take the Long Way Home.”  (by Supertramp)

 

Yeah, that was it! (Relieved). Thank you; thank you.  That was just exquisite. It just went right to the heart; it was exquisite, I have to tell you.  All right … well, I don’t know if you know this, but when you played Teen Angel on Broadway, you sold SROs [Standing Room Only tickets, in addition to the regular seats].  I’m a New Yorker from way back when and I’ve been the to the theater probably from the time that I was 17.  I’ve seen major actors — I mean major, major talent — and I have never seen anyone pay to stand in the aisles to see a play before!  So you broke new ground there.  Obviously, we love you. New York loves you.  When Grease went on the road for 18 months — I really feel because of you, I really feel that — what did you — here’s a trick question for ya (laughing) — what did you miss most about the city?

 

Um … [Long pause.]

 

Pushy New Yorkers like me??? (Laughing)

 

It’s so funny, y’know.  I could tell ya something … okay, the food, the atmosphere.  But here’s the thing, y’know?  I think the one thing that I see eye-to-eye with New Yorkers with is, we have the same pride in our State as New Yorkers do in their city.

 

Yes!

 

Y’know?

 

Yes, yes!

 

It’s like this unbridled pride that you have for your city.  And I think that’s why I connected, because I feel that, I can tell that.  I think really being able to hang out in the city and be a part of it, you know, you feel that.  And also, being from Alabama, it’s a very prideful place, a prideful State, and I think that’s something that I can connect with.

 

At this point, Sean called on my cell phone to alert me that we had to wrap it up, so that Taylor could conduct his next interview.  I apologized to Taylor, asking him to hang on while I answered Sean’s call.  But in doing so, I couldn’t pick Sean up in time.

 

I just missed Sean. I think he wants me off the phone. Unless, y’know, ya wanna talk.

 

I wish I could.  It’s … I’m in the middle of the airport —

 

You poor guy!

 

But we can do one more question.  Ya got one?

 

Yeah!!!!  I was wanting to know about “Indiscriminate Act of Kindness.”  The first five times I heard that, I sobbed, I mean, I sobbed.  It was your delivery.  I never heard Foy Vance’s version.  I didn’t want to, after I heard yours.  It is exquisite.  How did you come to find this song?

 

(A little knowing laugh.) Well, y’know, my friend, good friend [noted songwriter] Gary Nicholson …

 

Oh yeah!

 

He helped me, helped me in the process of writing.  And honestly, we found some great music, and he turned me on to it.  And then Simon Climie had recorded “Hallelujah” with Jeff Buckley and Michael McDonald.   I said, “Let’s try to record this in the same time signature as “Hallelujah,” as done by Jeff Buckley and Michael McDonald: 3-4 time.”  And so, that’s what we did “Indiscriminate Act of Kindness” in, 3-4 time.  It really works well.  [Mr. Climie was Taylor’s celebrated producer on his most current DC, “The Distance,” and has produced work for Eric Clapton, BB King, Santana, Faith Hill, and other renowned artists.]

 

It’s just beautiful.  It’s astoundingly beautiful. 

 

Oh, that’s what I wanna hear.  Well, I think we’re movin’ on.  Hey, I hope ta see ya at the Highline!

 

I’m goin’, I’m goin’!!! 

 

Oh, good.  Hey, thank you so much for your time.

 

Oh, you too, you too!  Thank you so much; you’re an angel.  Fly safe!! Bye-bye.

 

That old game we all played as teens, “Seven Minutes in Heaven,” was nothin’ compared to my 22 minutes in heaven yesterday when Taylor Hicks was good enough to speak with me.  Many thanks go to Judy Katz and Sean Katz for this wonderful opportunity, and to “anothertayfan” for the use of her great shot accompanying this article from a Syracuse, New York concert.


One last and vital note, please.  Our readers can find Taylor’s music online, at iTunes and Amazon.com, as well as major retailers such as Target and WalMart.  Please note that “Indiscriminate Act of Kindness,” on “The Distance,” is a bonus track that appears solely for the version created for Target.


Also, our intention is to post the complete audio of this interview on the Website at a future date.  It will be a separate posting and likely the “Featured Story” of that day.  So, check Write On New Jersey daily for that update.

Attention: Soul Patrol!

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Kid One Medical Transport

This is not a contest or a competition; there are no free tickets to Grease or a shadow gig, and no autographed harmonicas.  What this is is a quick and easy way to honor Taylor Hicks, give back, and in one fell swoop, feel great this Christmas, Chanukah, and Kwanzaa season.

 

Go to

 

http://www.kidone.org/index.php

 

and click the Donate Now button.  Stick with me, please, and keep reading, even if you think you can’t afford a donation.  Donate whatever you can, and at the end of the first form you’ll be asked to fill out online, click the Continue button.  This will take you into another page where you indicate that you are making the donation in Taylor’s name (suggestion: A Taylor Hicks Christmas/Soul Patrol).

 

If ten people donate $5 each, we will have paid for a single ride in a Kid One van.  If the same ten people donate $10 each, we will have provided one round trip for a child or expectant mother who otherwise has no transport-access to vital healthcare.   If 200 of us give $5 or $10 each, imagine the good we will do.  Remember that Taylor brought KidOne to our attention.  Remember how much joy he has brought us all via great new music and wonderful new friends we would not and could not have made without him.

 

Times are tough now, but think of what $5 or $10 really means to you.   It’s the cost of a single drive-through meal or one-third of what you’d spend on a manicure.  It’s the cost an over the counter mascara, a cheap after-shave, or a paperback.
Together, we can do this.  Together, we can make a difference.  And, we can give twice by emailing or linking this article to a friend or loved one.

 

Nobody’s keeping tabs on who gives what.  Give what you can, if you can, out of the joy of giving and because you wish to honor Taylor.

 

Many thanks and blessings to you all, or as Taylor would say, y’all.  Have a happy and sacred Christmas, Chanukah, and Kwanzaa!

 

For those unacquainted with KidOne, here’s a brief run-down; more information can be found on their website (the link appears above).

 

Johnson & Johnson honors a handful of charities each year for their innovation and drive.  The Kid One Transport is one charity so honored.  As the only 501 (c) (3) nonprofit of its kind in the state of Alabama and one of only a handful of such nonprofits in the U.S., its sole mission is to transport children and expectant mothers to and from all manner of healthcare appointments: diagnostics and therapy.  If a child requires dialysis, has been classified autistic, or suffers from some form of cancer, or if an expectant mother and her unborn child is at high risk, Kid One Transport is there — but they are only there because of donations from private individuals and a few sponsorships from generous corporations as well as partnerships with Site Savers America, Vita Smiles, and several other community resources.

 

Imagine if your child were suffering and you had to make the choice between keeping your job, and thereby, the roof over your child’s head, or ferrying them back and forth to medical appointments.   Imagine if you were carrying a baby and needed special medical care, yet had no way to access it.  This is the gap that Kid One fills and the peace of mind that they give.

 

On a shoestring, with a great deal of integrity and stamina, this is Kid One’s mission.  Currently, they service approximately one-half of the State of Alabama, with hopes of going State-wide and perhaps if God is willing, nationwide.  In September of 2007, I visited Kid One in Birmingham, Alabama with my good friend Pam Moore.  We both of us emerged shocked, humbled, and changed.

 

The charity operates seven days a week and alternate drivers are always scheduled, in case of emergencies (the charity was turning no client away).  The vans that Kid One uses take a heavy pounding and do not last more than two to three years.   Add to this the cost of gasoline and then do the math.  On that sultry morning two years ago, Pam and I waited for the charity to open its doors.  In the parking lot of their modest office building sat two vans:  one brand spanking new, painted with the black and yellow colors and logo of the organization, and the other clearly on its last legs.  These were not vans a la SUV’s.  These are large vehicles equipped to accommodate children and expectant mothers with special medical needs.

 

If Alabama and her children seem a long way removed from you, think again.  In your life, you have a child somewhere: a child of your body, or a child or your heart.  A grandchild, a niece, a nephew, a student, a neighbor.  A child in need is a child in need, regardless of where he or she lives or any other superficiality.

 

This holiday season, do something that will lift your heart (I promise it will!) and help a child or expectant mother who truly needs your assistance.  Donate, please, whatever you can to this very worthy charity.
Thank you from the bottom of my heart, and from the hearts of those you will lighten with your kindness.

Maybe You Should (I Did)

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Good music bypasses the intellect and goes straight to the heart.  Brilliant music remains there forever.  With energy off the Richter scale, Taylor Hicks’ performances of September 25 and 26, 2009 at Birmingham’s WorkPlay Theatre stand in that latter, rarified category.  Compared to those concerts, this review will be flimsy. Words cannot match the live gigs, the best I’ve ever been blessed to experience in my long history as a music geek.  So I’ll just pull a Pat Benatar and hit it with my best shot.

 

Kaleidoscoping between playful little boy, the guy you’d like to knock back a cold one with, and the most dedicated of musicians, Hicks created a riveting, don’t blink or you’ll miss it stage presence.  Rockin’, bluesy, jazzy, soulful, and more, he deftly balanced freeform jam with structure, pulling selections from three albums (The Distance. his eponymous CD, and Early Works) and interspersing them with little snippets of gems like Van Morrison’s Tupelo Honey and full covers such as The Meters’ Hey, Pocky Way and The Beatles’ Don’t Let Me Down.  The entire set list escapes me and I make no apologies; I was having an out of body experience.

 

Incredibly powerful and alternately tender, Taylor’s high pipes bled no-holds-barred rockers (Seven Mile Breakdown and I Live on a Battlefield) into the pretty, hopeful The Deal, the lush Latin-inflected Once Upon a Lover, Runaround, which nails a driving beat to a tale of deception, the profound and understated Nineteen, and Maybe You Should, a quiet little killer that made me wish Hicks had twisted the knife deeper into my heart.  As impossible as it seemed for Taylor to top himself, he did just that Saturday night with the phenomenally rousing New Found Freedom, replete with a robed gospel choir from the University of Alabama at Birmingham.  At the risk of blaspheming, this last number was a religious experience: an inspiration for anyone who’s ever been kicked in the butt, dusted himself off, and emerged tempered in steel.

 

Gyrating faster than the Energizer Bunny and suddenly quiescent, the singer-songwriter-arranger-instrumentalist dripped sweat like an air conditioner on max, his face morphing under the spots from pain to delight and every nuance in between.  Swinging from acoustic to electric guitar to harp (harmonica), he ran me over like a locomotive and resurrected me at will.  The instruments he played best, however, were my heart strings — and judging from the reaction of the audience en masse in his native Birmingham theatre, their cardiac organs as well.  The take-no-prisoners Hicks is a unique talent:  an artist and entertainer who knows the difference between the two entities and who honors them both.  He is also the captain of his own ship, the independent label Modern Whomp Records.

 

It would be patently unjust to exclude mention of the fine musicians who rode the blissful roller coaster with the accomplished Taylor Hicks.  These include:

 

Gifted pianist/organist Brian Less.  Musical heir to Jerry Lee Lewis, Mr. Less’ hands should be bronzed – no, gilded; they fly maniacally, delicately, and perfectly over the keys.

 

Funky sax/flute player extraordinaire, Jeff Lopez, who sometimes blows two horns simultaneously, and to perfection!

 

Lead guitarist Josh Smith of the exquisitely hot, bluesy, hurts-so-good licks.

 

Authoritative rhythm was driven by drummer Leif Bondarenko, percussionist Jay Smith, and bassist Jay Parker.

 

Donna Hall lent her lovely backup vocals to the set.

 

Surprise guests included Billy Earl McClelland, a blistering blues axe man who blew me into next week, and Ona Watson, celebrated jazz musician who joined the leader of the band for a hot-cool cover of Bobby Womack’s Woman Got To Have It.

 

If you have the chance to catch Taylor Hicks live as he tours nationally, take this advice to heart: run, do not walk. A ticket will buy you an unforgettable, uplifting musical experience unmatched, in my estimation, by any other. 

Face to Face with Taylor Hicks!

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Allison Grooms and Taylor Hicks

In the three years since Taylor Hicks has won our nation’s largest singing competition, a lot of water has passed under his bridge, including the establishment of his own record label and the launch of a CD that boasts the contributions of well-respected musical luminaries.   While all of this terrific water was passing beneath Taylor’s bridge, I myself was passing over bridges, clouds, and highways into many previously unexplored cities across the country.  However, my destination was always the same: a Taylor Hicks concert and/or appearance in the national tour of Grease, in which he stars as Teen Angel.  The best of his live musical performances, in my opinion, was his recent acoustic concert in a great Detroit club called The Magic Bag.

 

This most excellent gig was capped off by the M&G (Meet and Greet) that I was about to have with Taylor.  In my travels, I have met Taylor before, but never after an actual concert.  I was very excited about this meeting, as were the other seven people also lucky enough to have M&G’s at the Magic Bag.  The security people at the club were, at first, confused as to what to do with eight bursting-at-the-seams happy Taylor Hicks fans.  After checking our names against a list for verification, we were told to stand next to a railing and wait.  We were then directed to line up behind a group of people who were getting CD’s signed by the headliner.  We had just lined up when a man came by and wrapped wristbands around our arms, thus proclaiming us as the Chosen Few.

 

As we were waiting to meet Taylor, my friend John Kulinich, who had played guitar for Taylor that night, came by to say “hi.”  John has his own Southern rock/country band, called Rollin’ in the Hay, for which he plays a mean (translation: great) guitar.  I had first made John’s acquaintance a few months earlier, at a Rollin’ in the Hay concert where we struck up a friendship.  While Taylor finished signing the CD’s, John and I chatted a bit.  Finally, the security force was ready to start the M&G’s!

 

Since some people were still milling about the club’s lobby, security led us down toward the stage.  There were a few people in line ahead of me, including a teenaged boy who asked to photograph Taylor holding up a sign for the boy’s school.  The lady in front of me had a nice conversation with Taylor and finally, it was my turn!  Surprisingly I was calm (I’m always afraid he’ll hear my knees knocking, but my kneecaps behaved nicely this time around).

 

Taylor greeted me with a smile and I told him that, of all the shows I’d seen him do, this was my favorite.  I told him that I loved his acoustic material and he graciously said that he appreciated it and hoped that he could do more acoustic concerts!  Then I presented him with a printout of a drawing that a friend of mine, who lives in Finland, had sketched of him.  After that, I asked him to sign a photo that I had taken at the Grease show in New York City last summer, where the blockbuster musical had kicked off.  Just as Taylor got done signing this for me, his friend Clay Connor came walking past us and spied the photo.  He commented on how good it was and I told Clay and Taylor that I’d snapped the shot before the camera cops caught me!  They both laughed at that. Naturally, I wanted a picture with Taylor, so I handed my camera to the security guy to do the honors, and he took a great picture!  Since there were other people in line behind me, I told Taylor I’d see him in Canada for another appearance, and made my way back through the crowd.  It was an M&G I will never forget.  Taylor couldn’t have been any nicer.  By the time I had emerged into the night air, my knees and other body parts had regained their memories:  I was literally shaking!

 

I love Taylor Hicks’ music.  I love the sound and honesty of it; I love the emotion he is unafraid to convey.  Beyond the music, this quiet, humble celebrity has become my hero.  Now, that may sound corny to some people, but it happens to be the truth.  I have seen this fine singer-songwriter-musician many times both on and off the stage, and he is extremely appreciative of his fans.  He is the nicest man you could ever want to meet.  If he sees a disabled person in the crowd, he goes out of his way to make that person feel extra-special.  I have seen him do this a number of times when there were no bright lights, cameras, or media people around; unlike too many people in the public eye, he is genuine.  With Taylor Hicks, you get what you see.  As for me, I hope to see and hear him perform his great music for a very long time to come. 

Long Train Runnin’

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taylor-hicks-the-distance2

If you like your music computer-generated and bereft of soul, steer clear of Taylor Hicks’ latest CD, “The Distance.”  On his third independent release, you won’t find synthesizers or a techno-robotic voice; you won’t even find the ubiquitous box office star aspiring to overnight Top 40 fame.  What you will find on Hicks’ latest outing is a rich artistic collaboration with producers, musicians, and front men who have lent their talents to acts as celebrated and respected as Eric Clapton, Carlos Santana, Squeeze, and Elvis Costello.

 

Solidly crafted over more than a decade playing tough roadhouses in the Deep South, Hicks’ foundation of musical sensibilities encompasses soul, the blues, jazz, funk, and Southern rock.  Into this musical brew, he now stirs a little country, a touch of bluegrass, Latin rhythms, and a soupcon of hip-hop.  Alternately upbeat and introspective, the mélange reflects both Hicks’ versatility and his commitment to going “The Distance” in his career as opposed to running a twenty-yard dash.  The artist’s voice is the thread of commonality linking and driving each tune.  To a human ear, that voice is a powerful, tender-gritty tenor likened by some to Michael McDonald’s pipes.  To a human heart, it speaks directly with passion and humor.  In the most emotional of the songs on his new collection, Hicks displays incredible control.  Instead of taking the obvious, over-the-top route, his approach, at once low-key and wrenching, renders them all the more poignant.

 

A musician, singer, songwriter, and arranger, Taylor Hicks shares songwriting credits for half of the new tunes with collaborators such as BB King-Clapton-Faith Hill producer Simon Climie, while other luminaries penned the balance.  These include Paul Carrack, the genius writer, singer, and keyboardist behind Roxy Music, Ace, Mike and The Mechanics, and Squeeze – including “Tempted,” the latter’s chart-busting U.S. single, Nick Lowe, producer of Elvis Costello’s early nerd-turned-punk-god brilliance, and the Grammy-winning Delbert McClinton, a warhorse who has scored consistently high on Billboard’s charts for country and crossover music.  Seasoned and self-taught in acoustic guitar, electric guitar, and harmonica, Hicks allowed other musicians to steer most of the live instruments on the new offerings.  These artists include drummer Abe Laboriel Jr. and bassist Nathan East: veterans of Clapton and Paul McCartney tours.  Launched under Hick’s own label, Modern Whomp Records, the twelve cuts on this CD are, in reality, fourteen; the final, bonus song varies according to distributor (iTunes, Wal-Mart, and Target).  With only so much space to appraise them, this writer will confine her review to the songs that spoke most deeply to her.

 

“I Live on a Battlefield” is set not in the Iraqi desert but on the landscape of a romance besieged by betrayal and blame.  Like the desert sands, however, the complex tempos and rhythms shift quickly, creating a danceable, disturbing vehicle for Hicks’ inspired delivery: as if he’s been shot out of a cannon to stumble across a war-torn field, dodging fire.  “Battlefield” swings from an opening, Squeeze-pop hook to a bluesy, Marvin Gaye-like melody, evolving into something darker, almost Ray Charlesian.  Spooky keys give way to a scratchy guitar and quickly ascend into more delicate atmospherics.  Then we get Squeezed again and bled back into the blues.  Taylor’s high, plaintive cry inserted thrice toward the end tells that the bullets have found their mark.  Like an aria, the song builds to a crescendo where the guitar finally throws down the glove and riffs big time, anchoring Hicks’ potent, ever climbing vocals.  Josh Smith, the guitarist backing Taylor on his 2007 tour and appearing with him on some 2009 club tour dates, deserves mega-props for his blistering, riveting string work on this Carrack-Lowe cover.

 

With a relentless, almost militaristic beat beneath a snarling guitar, “Seven Mile Breakdown”‘ warns us from the get-go that we’re going to rock n’ roll heaven.  If you don’t slash air guitar and scrunch your face in a “hurts so good” grimace to this one, you may want to check your pulse.  Penned by Hicks and former band mate Wynn Christian, this no-holds-barred rock-out is a paean to Creedence, the Allmans, and other seminal Southern rock greats.  Achieving rich imagery with minimal lyrics, “Seven Mile Breakdown” is a love song, but not a typical one.  It is an ode to the artist’s push-pull love affair between the never-ending road and the woman waiting for him at the end of it.  And no, I’m not going to tell you who wins the tug of war (life should hold some surprises!).

 

Although other instrumentalists are credited on the gently cutting “Maybe You Should,” this reviewer hears only two: Tim Carmen’s gorgeous, understated piano and Taylor’s “I’m dying on the inside” vocals.  Listening to this soft heartbreaker as Hicks finally lets go of a vanishing relationship, I feel almost like a voyeur; it is that personal.  At the same time, the song is universal to anyone who has loved and lost.

 

Despite the fact that “Indiscriminate Act of Kindness” was written by Foy Vance, a musician who hails from Northern Ireland, Taylor Hicks owns this song by virtue of his articulation.  The sparsity of instrumentation balances the singer’s remarkably tender yet deeply profound delivery.  A quietly monumental act of kindness, the story told here is but a parable for a much greater life lesson.  To give it away in written language would rob you and every other reader of the richer experience that can only be achieved by hearing this beautiful song.  Please note that “Indiscriminate Act of Kindness” is available solely on the version sold by Target.

 

If you are unafraid of the sound of genuine human emotion, give yourself a present: buy “The Distance.”  You won’t be sorry that you did.

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