Sharing thoughts about Taylor Hicks and concert travels and other musical musings!

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Taylor Hicks and "Early Works"

On August 12, 2008, Taylor Hicks fans were able to purchase “Early Works”, a compilation of pre-America Idol recordings previously only available from limited sources. If you weren’t lucky enough to know about Taylor Hicks before he claimed the Season 5 American Idol crown in 2006, weren’t a bidder on eBay or didn’t attend any concerts during Taylor’s first solo national tour, where these early recordings were often available, now is the chance to own a piece of musical history.

“Early Works” has been released as a Target Stores exclusive with some distribution available from Best Buy and Amazon (at least from Amazon International). After the initial pre-sale on Amazon and later its removal, fans clamoring for the CD were aghast at what had happened. With the announcement that Target would have the exclusive sale of “Early Works”, fans settled down to wait for the Taylor Tuesday drop this past week. Yes, I was in the rush myself to get my copy before there was any chance of a sell-out at my local Target.

Once home with my treasure, forget that I already had copies of these early CDs, I proceeded to open the package and carefully place the disc in my CD player. I was primed to hear what had been promised as remastered tracks of the original songs. For those unfamiliar with the term, remaster, it means that the original recording is enhanced using current technology to improve the sound.

According to the history of these recording, the original “In Your Time” CD, recorded in 1997, was actually recorded during a live performance. When listening closely to several of the tracks, you can actually hear the audience applause and chatter. At the time of making this CD, having written four original songs for the CD, Taylor Hicks was nineteen years old. “On Broadway”, a rather prophetic song for its time, didn’t make it to “Early Works”.

Eight years later, in 2005, “Under the Radar” was recorded in a studio setting with Taylor Hicks and his musically talented buddies, with all seven of the songs written by Taylor Hicks himself. The only song from that CD to not make it to “Early Works”, “”Hell of a Day”, was released as a bonus track for Taylor’s first major CD, “Taylor Hicks” which was sold exclusively at Wal-Mart with the bonus track.

With that said, as I listened to the latest version of the songs, I closed my eyes to enjoy the rich warmth of Taylor’s voice. The remastering of the early recordings seemed to have lifted his voice up and make it front and center for “Early Works”. Whether that’s true or not, I don’t know, nor do I really care, I just liked the clarity of the music and Taylor’s voice.

I tried to picture what must have been going on in Taylor’s life that led to the lyrics of many of his songs. What must he have been feeling as he wrote the words, where he saw his career heading, and what he expected musically for himself? I tried to imagine what it was like in the early days when the bar crowds might be small or almost non-existent. Did he feel like giving up? Would he be able to hang in there until success would someday be his?

So much has happened since those early days, those early works. We now know what Taylor Hicks has experienced as success, and now we get to watch how this new national release of his “Early Works” will pan out.

In looking at the songs on the CD, the way they are arranged, mixing them up between the original recordings, it reminds me of perhaps sitting in a bar, watching Taylor Hicks perform with some friends, singing his original music with a couple of covers thrown in for good measure.

“Soul Thing” starts the CD set, setting the stage for what’s to come. It has sufficient beat with its jazzy sax and guitar twang to make you want to dance as well as just sit back, sip your drink slowly, and just listen. “Soul Thing” would later be re-recorded for “Taylor Hicks”, Taylor’s first major release. “The Fall” follows with a slowed down tempo and string fret, that when you realize Taylor Hicks wrote this song before he was twenty, you can’t help but wonder about the heartbreak he must have felt as he ‘climbed the ladder’ while his lady love ‘took the fall’ as he sings this song almost apologetically to her.

The tracks come back to a later time with “Hold on to Your Love”, “The Deal” and “Heart and Soul”. All three songs make you feel good, wanting to sit back, and reflect on those around you, such as that special man or woman in your life. The clarity of the recordings is there, and the instruments are in fine tune with Taylor’s voice. “The Deal” was also re-recorded and made part of “Taylor Hicks”, Taylor’s 2007 major release.

The tracks take us back in time again to “In Your Time”, a song that winds up with another song embedded within it. If you’ve stopped imagining yourself in a bar, this song brings you back quickly when your realize Taylor is doing his famous tagging. Back to the future, with “West Texas Sky”, my favorite, with its Spanish feel and finger cymbals or castanets.

It’s the next track, “Somehow”, that truly shows Taylor’s talent as a songwriter. A truly perceptive 19-year old writer, looking to figure out how to get by and knowing he will do so ‘somehow’. If a single is to be released from this compilation, this song is definitely the one to be that single. With its country flair, it would make a great cross-over song between easy listening and country.

Sometimes in live performances Taylor has gone off in different directions with his music and “Tighten Up” is just another example of that happening. He introduces the song, not verbally spoken, but a sing-song way. Here he lets you know who the musicians are as he gives each a solo spot to show their talent. Not one of my favorites, but with the remastering of the track, it’s growing on me.

“Son of a Carpenter” brings us near the end of the set. As a song that appears to have a message but not one that can be clearly defined, some think it has a religious meaning while others proclaim it’s about his father (who is really a dentist). And then the set end with “My Friend”, a jazzy, New Orleans, blues sound. By the time it’s over, we too are ‘sharing that smile’!

But it doesn’t end there, because like a live performance, there is often an encore, and this particular track has been performed by Taylor in just that way. I imagine this song, much like the familiar scene at Smith’s Olde Bar in Atlanta, Taylor Hicks is sitting a chair, Billy Earl McClelland with his guitar is sitting beside Taylor, as Taylor closes his eyes, channels Ray Charles and sings “Georgia”. It’s a beautiful way to end a beautiful night of music.

When it’s over and I come back to reality, I’m ready to restart the CD, relive my dream and listen again to the crisp voice, to enjoy it all over again. And with some of these songs, I have the opportunity to remember concerts where Taylor Hicks has performed these songs, such as “The Deal”, “Soul Thing” and “My Friend”. Other songs, such as “The Fall” and “Somehow”, were reserved for encores where Taylor would accompany himself with a guitar and sometimes still on a stool.

Perhaps the release of the CD is to whet our appetites for the next major CD to be released later in the fall. Maybe it’s to help bring in new fans that have the privilege of seeing Taylor perform the role of Teen Angel in the Broadway musical “Grease”. Whatever the reason, I’m glad it’s out there. It’s a great way to combine two early CDs into a single compilation that gives a flavor to what Taylor Hicks is all about.

If you haven’t already gotten your copy of “Early Works” by Taylor Hicks, head on over to your local Target to pick one up. In the mean time, if you’d like to hear samples of the songs, stop by The Taylor Hicks Community’s Discography ( and select your CD to hear!

ETA: string fret - that scraping metalic sound you hear when the guitar strings are rubbed harder than plucked or strummed.

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Anonymous said...

Since it is "the voice" that matters to me, I am thrilled that "Early Works" allows me to hear the purity and clarity of Taylor's vocals. I love instrumentals and Taylor is one artist who always features his band members. This was as true in 1997 / 2005 as it is today.
Great "review" of this CD.


hickifino said...

Thank you for your excellent review of Early Works. I like the way you wove the present into the past, making where he was and how he was feeling real to the modern day listener.

I'm lost on one thing. In describing The Fall, you use the term "sting fret."
'“The Fall” follows with a slowed down tempo and sting fret,... What's a sting fret?

Anonymous said...

Thanks RagsQueen for your thoughtful review of Early Works. I was right there with you. Although I had heard all the music before, in some ways I was hearing these songs in a new way. I could not wait until I got home to listen, so on the long drive, I was alone in the back roads. Perhaps because there were no distractions, I gained a new appreciation for Taylor's voice and music. It was an eclectic mix, much as you said, like a bar set. There could have been no better encore than Georgia. I was mesmerized by the sound of emotion that came through his voice.

Having Early Works to listen to was so worth the long drive...I'd do it again!


Anonymous said...

Fantastic review of the CD. You made me think of some things I had forgotten about when listening to these songs. The fact that Taylor was 19 when he wrote some of these songs blows me away. They are so deep for a 19 year old and yet so many years later he still sings them with the same intensity. They are part of him and who he is. Loved the way you took us to past and present, very well done.


Ben said...

Good review and boy does this CD need reviews - I have hardly seen any reviews, blog or otherwise, and I've heard that even some Hicks fans didn't realize this CD had come out!

I loved the remastering particularly on the "In Your Time" tracks. The "Under the Radar" stuff sounds great, but it already sounded really good on the original CD. The remastering has really given a fuller sound.

This is a great album and one that hopefully is setting the stage for a great album of new material.

RagsQueen said...

Thanks for all the great comments! They are much appreciated!

What I call 'string fret' is the sound the stings make when stroked in such a way that they strings have a metalic sound of being scraped as well as played. Maybe there's another term for it, but that's what I mean by it. Thanks for asking for the clarity!

KarinP said...

Mandy, a very well written review about Early Works. I am looking forward to receiving my copy later this week and I know that I won't be disappointed.

"Somehow" is one of my favourite songs and I am hoping that with some good fortune, someone on a radio station will start to play some of the music from this CD.

Gr8fulheart said...

Mandy ~ What an amazing review & so 'right on'! I am Loving the Early Works cd so much that wherever I go & as I drive; Taylor is right there. I have replaced the 'Taylor Hicks' cd with 'Early Works'. My little box in the car is FULL of Great Music by a Great Artist!
The clarity is defined & I'm enjoying every song on this remarkable piece of Artistry in Music.
Thanx Mandy ~ You have a gift of laying out pictures in words for all to see. Always Gr8ful♥

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