Even when Taylor Hicks was on American Idol it was never clear if there was a record-buying audience for his brand of blue-eyed soul, so when they didn't manifest in large numbers for his major-label post-Idol debut in 2006, it wasn't too much of a surprise when 19 Entertainment dropped him afterward. For some AmIdol finalists, this abandonment would be the kiss of death, but Hicks was a journeyman before Idol and he was a journeyman after it...the only difference is, he has a national audience and the budget to hire Eric Clapton's latter-day collaborator Simon Climie as a producer for his second album, The Distance. Climie also produced Michael McDonald's two Motown albums, so it follows that The Distance is somewhere between Clapton's well-tailored blues-rock and McDonald's soulful soft rock -- which also means it's not too far removed from Taylor Hicks, it just lacks the crossover inclination that led to such wannabe hits as "The Runaround." It's also true that The Distance lacks the need for a crossover hit: this album is pitched solely to the faithful, to those who are already paying attention, to those who will silently thrill at fellow Idol soulman Elliott Yamin's duet on Bobby Womack's "Woman's Got to Have It," to those who will chuckle at Hicks' hamfisted jabs at Paris, Britney, and OJ on "Keeping It Real." Considering the limited ambitions of The Distance, it may boast too fancy of a production -- it's akin to slapping high-thread count sheets onto a bed at the Super 8 -- but Climie's clean approximation of Southern R&B does make for a more consistent album than Taylor Hicks. True, Taylor's brand of soul is suited for the House of Blues, not a roadhouse dive, but Hicks is never in denial that he's a ham, milking those cornball jokes, shedding a tear for the teenage Iraqi war soldier on "Nineteen," wondering why we can't all just get along on the title track, sailing along on a supperclub cha-cha beat on "Once Upon a Lover," and stealing a bride on her wedding day. Hicks doesn't show great sensitivity as an interpreter -- he barrels through Nick Lowe's "I Live on a Battlefield," not doing it much harm -- but as an entertainer he pulls out all the stops, determined to get every last person in the joint to crack a smile. It's a trait that served him well in those small clubs and on television, and it still serves him well here.
AllMusic Review by Stephen Thomas Erlewine
feat: Elliott Yamin