I keep my promises (even if they’re poorly written).

hey.Okay. After almost a week of blasting the thing in my car, here’s the rundown on Taylor Hicks, track by track.

Right off the bat, The Runaround is one of my favorites. I know a lot of people find the lyrics to be really juvenile, and maybe they are, but I’m willing to give them a pass here. Why? Because I just really, really like this song. It’s got so many interesting musical things going on—the Bo Diddley-ish beat of the introductory marching drums; the two-note interplay on the piano (maybe someone with more musical knowledge than I can confirm or deny this, but it sounds distinctly to me like it’s coming from a more rickety instrument and not a grand Steinway or anything); the horns that just sound damn happy to be there. Yeah, I like my music to be deep and meaningful, but I also just like a good tune sometimes, and this one definitely fits the bill.

On the complete other ends of the spectrum, unfortunately, is the Rob Thomas-penned Dream Myself Awake. The song opens with a cheesy horn introduction that sounds like it’s touting the arrival of the redesigned 2007 Honda Civic, not the first few bars of a supposedly wistful love song. Taylor does a bit to infuse it with some good ol’ growly Taylorness, but aside from getting a little crazy on the last “do me wrong, do me right” line, he mainly just sounds bored here. And the words are straight out of the “How To Write a Hit Song for Teenagers” handbook: Employ vague words and phrases like “dream,” “can’t get enough” and “tear myself to pieces” so that tweens will feel like you’re totally speaking to them through your music! Overall, this is one of the weakest tracks on the album.

Hello.Next up is Heaven Knows, and while a reviewer or two has claimed angina over the sampled “What’d I Say” backbeat (I didn’t sample it! It’s my own beat! There’s goes dum-dum-dum da-da dum-dum, and mine has an extra da! An extra da!), I think it’s a very nice way for Taylor to pay homage to his hero, because let’s face it, as talented as Taylor is (and as damn good as Taylor’s “Georgia” is), there was only one Ray Charles. The lyrics here are a cut above “The Runaround,” even if they are a little too “oh girl, I work hard for my money, what the hell else do you want from me” for my tastes, but I think this song best exemplifies “modern whomp” by combining old-school elements (both the Ray sample and the Smokey Robinson overlay, some brass, and a staccato delivery) with up-to-date infusions (Taylor’s patented growl and crunchy electric guitar riffs on the chorus).

Taylor’s cover of Gonna Move is next, and I’m just waiting to play the first few bars of this for one of my unsuspecting friends so they can ask me why I’m listening to 70s-era porno music. Hee! Yes, the intro to this number is bow-chicka-bow-wow-licious, but at the same time, it boasts one of the best vocal performances that Taylor gives on the album, especially at the beginning, when Taylor is at his raspy Cockerish best. I like the funkified treatment here, and again, Taylor’s raw whiskey tenor is a nice contrast to the smooth production. The production gets a little too smooth, though, on the next track, a cover of Marvin Gaye’s Wherever I Lay My Hat. I dunno which studio monkey had the brilliant idea of giving a song on a “modern whomp” album the ol’ Rod Stewart, mid-80s, cymbol-flourishing treatment, but it just doesn’t work here. The original had funky horns and an overall senior-prom-in-the-gynmasium old-school feel (which is not a bad thing at all), and sounds like the type of song that should have wound up on Taylor Hicks, but Serletic’s version for this song winds up being less Marvin Gaye and more Paul Young (which is a bad thing). But again, Taylor’s delivery is great, minus a few awkward spots here and there.

We’re not even gonna talk about Give Me Tonight. Just…no, Taylor. No.

Just To Feel That Way has (or should have) more hit potential than does Rob Thomas’s treacly little number. Yes, it’s a formulaic pop ballad on many, many levels, but it also boasts a lovely piano intro that sounds different enough to pique the interest of your average radio listener, yet familiar enough not to scare them away. As far as what makes the song work independently of its Top 40 potential, though, are Taylor’s superb vocals. He growls, crunches, wails and pleads on this song, especially on the bridge, and he really sells the damn thing. I see music video potential in this one, but I doubt the suits will agree with me, mainly because they never do. Now, I know a lot of people aren’t feeling The Maze, and while I don’t automatically hit the skip button when this one comes on, I don’t hit repeat, either. The verses sound vaguely Maroon 5-ish (think “This Love”), but then the song launches into a bland chorus, and to be honest, Taylor sounds ever-so-slighty under the pitch every time he sings the word “maze.” Places I’ve Been is the standard “you’re the only one! Yes, you! And only you!” ballad that’s been putting food on the Warren family’s table for decades now, and it’s pretty meh.

Soul Thing gets a pretty decent workover, and Taylor really goes to town on the “when the blues come out to play/and jazz leaves her number” breakdown, but I could have done without his voice being synthed and looped through the verses. The Deal remains largely unchanged, except that the acoustic guitar has gone electronic. I prefer the Under The Radar version, but the slicker one here is nice, too. Then comes the knock-you-off-your-feet closer The Right Place, which is the closest Taylor gets on this album to his “roots,” so to speak. The vocals, phrasing and texture on this song are all phenomenal, and although I think the arrangement could have been even more sparse, I’m just not gonna nitpick this one. I’m gonna enjoy it for what it is—far and away the best total song on the album.

Oh, and if you sold your soul and bought your CD at Wal-Mart, you’ll notice a completely re-worked version of Hell of a Day rounding out the track listing at number thirteen. This is a pretty groovy version of our old heart-wrenching favorite; in fact, it’s hardly the same song. I like it a lot, but I can’t even bring myself to think of it as the same song that appears on Under The Radar, because the acoustic version really kind of gets to me—and besides, it was the first time I ever heard Taylor outside his Idol audition, so it’ll always have a home in my heart.

Final verdict: It’s a pretty solid debut, with only one or two bona-fide clunkers and three or four real gems. I’d have to give it a pretty solid B.


6 Responses to “I keep my promises (even if they’re poorly written).”

  1. 1 baxter December 18, 2006 at 8:18 pm

    Kat- You weren’t born in the 1970’s in Indiana by chance???? Cause I think we were seperated at birth!! hhaha I just gotta say that Heaven Knows is my favorite. Don’t know why ( maybe the heavy bass line…which I love) but I listen to this over and over again. Actually when I have played this cd for friends they all comment on this track. They love the beat and phrasing on the whole song. I have a friend that listens to nothing but songs with the words ass, bitch and ho in the lyrics and she called me to tell me how much she enjoys this song. Plays it over and over in the car. Well at least one convert at a time I always say.

    Great and fair review!!!

  2. 2 idolicious December 18, 2006 at 8:55 pm

    …early 80s in Queens, actually, but hey, you never know ;-)

  3. 3 SoulForever December 19, 2006 at 8:36 am

    Kat, Enjoyed your review but certainly disagree about “Wherever I Lay My Hat”. No technical review here…..just that Taylor made it his own and I absolutely love it. Made me cry first 5 or 6 times I listened….because it seemed so autobiographical and personal.

  4. 4 idolicious December 19, 2006 at 8:50 am

    SoulForever, I do agree that’s one of his better vocals. Glad you enjoyed it and that you found something on the album to really move you. Keep listening; I know I will be…

  5. 5 OsirisShotDown December 19, 2006 at 9:57 am

    Great review, Kat. I always like reading what you have to say.

    Y’know… I’ve been of two minds about the reworked HOAD and couldn’t really figure out why, but I think I’ve finally pinned it down – I really like the arrangement, love the horns and all, and I like the lyrics for the song… but I’m not crazy about them *together*. It’s almost like they found an instrumental track they liked, didn’t have time to write fitting lyrics and just tried to cram HOAD in there. The tune is a little too jaunty for lyrics where the singer is pondering whether or not he’ll ever be happy again.

  6. 6 ardnian December 20, 2006 at 1:58 am

    Great review, Kat.

    I agree with your assesment on the arrangement of WILMH and TRP. They’re beautiful, but I’m guessing these songs, stripped down, would be incredible live. TRP at AOL is fantastic! “Gonna Move” is even funkier live. I’m glad that Taylor is planning to release recordings of his live tour.

    baxter, my favorite song if “Heaven Knows” as well. This song would make a perfect single and broaden his fanbase, IMO.

    btw, did you give Taylor’s mp3 of “Abraham, Martin, and John” to your prof, Kat? I cannot stop listening to that song. The harp playing is perfect and the long run “mooooo-ooo-ooove” in the middle is freakin’ good. I love it when he starts improvising, adding lyrics and freestyling. My favorite line: “Sam Cooke said I swing it to my night beat, people…”. He made the song groovy with his vocal but still soulful. Good stuff.

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December 2006
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What the kids are sayin’

"I hate them all. The judges, TPTB, the blatant manipulation, the songs, the contestants, everything. I'm a die-hard Cook fan, but for the love of god, at least try to look like you're enjoying yourself up there! Please? Syesha was awesome but she ruined it by being completely shameless and disgusting. Yes, being on American Idol is exactly like the civil rights movement, except for the part where you're fighting to make the world a better place."

"All I can say after the disgusting display tonight of favoritism towards the mediocrity that is David A. - good luck trying to market and make money off of that kid, American Idol. (Not to mention good luck dealing with his father.) All the teeny boppers may buy up his American Idol coronation single, but they will quickly forget about him before the album comes out. And I shudder to think of a David A. album - song after song of unrelenting sameness and heavy breathing. Why they are pimping him for the win is beyond me."

"This show was simply a hot buttered mess tonight. And Jason "needs to be arrested for what he did to I Shot the Sheriff. But I hope he stays. He amuses me. "

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