In retrospect, it's hard not to wish that underdog Elliott Yamin won the fifth season of American Idol. Ever a likeable, humble soul, Yamin never had as clearly defined a personality as Taylor Hicks, the white-haired leader of the Soul Patrol who wound up besting Elliott. If Hicks seemed like a bit like a seasoned bar band pro, Elliott always seemed like the neighborhood boy made good, a guy with a cockeyed grin (sadly now corrected with veneers; thanks cosmetic dentistry for all your modern wonders!), a guy with a fixation on Donny Hathaway and Stevie Wonder who felt more comfortable slyly delivering the jazzy soul of "Moody's Mood for Love" than belting out barroom blues-rock à la Taylor. In other words, not only was he kinda shy but his gifts were subtle too -- the perfect ingredients to be a beloved underground on a televised competition, but not quite enough to push him into the winner's circle. But if he had won, he would have been well suited to the adult contemporary soul that producers would have pushed on him, the kind of soul that Taylor shunned in order to deliver a record that would have been more welcome in 1986 than 2006. Yamin, however, would have been willing to work with the powers that be, as he clearly demonstrates on this eponymous debut, which positions him as product instead of a personality. Since Elliott is a very good, very versatile singer, sounding more assured on record than Katharine and sliding into different styles with an ease that Taylor never bothers with, this is a bit of a shame. Removed from the show, he remains a sweet, soulful singer, somebody who gently draws you into a song, and he sounds equally comfortable with the jazzy R&B of "Movin' On" as he does deliberate soft rock, typified by the slow, steady "I'm the Man." He's best when there's a heavy dose of smooth soul -- the sultry, slow Hi grooves of "Train Wreck," which proves that the stuttering Usher wanna be "Alright" just isn't his style: it's too rushed, too hurried, and it doesn't showcase the rich tones of his voice to his advantage. Which only proves that he's not very contemporary unless he's adult contemporary, and the AC here is just as likely to be sleepy as it is to be appealing (the Jon Secada-styled "Find a Way" and "Free" are standouts). Unfortunately, there's just a shade too much of that calculated material here, and the production is just a bit too clean and colorless to rise above many similarly styled AC albums, but it's never Elliott's fault. He still sounds effortless and charming, which is why it's a shame he doesn't have the support he would have had if had won Idol: he would have had the biggest budget and the best collaborators, something that would help him make a record as distinctive as he is. Here, he and his producers try a little bit of everything -- a little old-fashioned soul, a little new-fashioned R&B, a lot of adult contemporary, a good cover of "A Song for You" -- in hopes that something will stick, leaving him as a singer in search of a style to call his own.
Elliott Yamin Review
by Stephen Thomas Erlewine