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In with Flynn: The singer-songwriter connection

by Holley Dey

flynn color press pic (1)

A young woman with plaited hair stood by my left shoulder and I turned to ask her a question. No answer. Her eyes were fixed on the festival stage and the singers who had gathered at the center mic. Honestly, their harmonies sounded tentative and unpracticed to me. It didn’t seem to matter, though, to the woman by my side or to hundreds of others who stood with us on the grass in Burlington, Vermont. The crowd was focused and fully invested in the performance. Alternatively, they were stoned……but no, I choose to believe that they were connected to the music. Let’s move on.

In the months that have followed, I’ve given some thought to the intimate connection that sometimes develops between audience and performer in a live music setting. It seems to transcend the music, the notes and the melody. I think it may have more to do with finding a common ground with the artist, identifying with an emotion or experience that is reflected in the music. I watched the crowd in Vermont quietly mouth the words as the band delivered the encore in an often shaky three part harmony. It just goes to show that connection doesn’t need a perfect performance; in fact, I think it is the small imperfections that encourage a sense of shared humanity. Lyrics lapse, drumstick drop or missed note – it needn’t matter. Connection doesn’t need an award winning melody either, but it helps if the music comes with feeling.

Last year I traveled to Boston for a New Year’s eve performance at Club Passim where the size and casual setting of the venue were conducive to a warm interaction. The opener that evening was a singer-songwriter who is known by a single name – Flynn. Flynn is a rock star who discovered early that the trappings of fame and a major label record deal were not a good fit for his style and personality. Originally from Ireland, he arrived in the United States with guitar in hand, ready to conquer the American music scene. He co-founded the band “Cliffs of Dooneen”, a Boston based band that arrived on the national stage with a smash debut album, The Dog Went East and God Went West (BMG/Critique 1991) and a Billboard top ten single, “Through an Open Window” (video). Cliffs of Dooneen was a constant on MTV, and on tour shared the stage with bands such as Nirvana and Smashing Pumpkins. Still, the band members drifted apart and an unfortunate accident and lengthy recovery set Flynn on a different path.

Today, Flynn enjoys a diverse career. He is a solo recording artist, an engineer, a producer and composer. His original song “Human” was recorded and used over the end credits of the Farrelly brothers film “Stuck on You”, as performed by Cher and Flynn (video). His music is heard in a variety of films, on television and on Broadway (Super-Man Live!). From his recording studio, he has engineered and produced a number of projects, including Ellis Paul’s recent holiday and award winning family albums. His most recent solo album, Flynn LIVE, is a compilation of performances from venues across the United States, and includes acoustic renditions of some his best known songs.

At Club Passim, Flynn was just as charming as his live album suggests that he would be. His songs were open and honest stories of life and love in America, imbued with a subtle emotion and wry humor that I found immediately relatable. And then there was his guitar play, both energetic and dynamic, that commanded attention and an immediate, involuntary smile. In that room and on that night, there was a welcome sense of community throughout a lively acoustic set that ended too soon. I connected, and hope that you will, too.

Before you watch a video from that holiday evening, I’d like to say a few brief words. I was not stoned or otherwise impaired during the filming of this song. It was a then new camera and it took most of the night for me to adjust to the camera’s weight. Oh, believe what you like. My hand steadies a bit as the song begins. Struggle through the first minute or two, though. The story is important to the song and your connection. In the comments, tell me – what prompts you to connect with the artist in a live music setting?

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Sneak Preview: “The Choice” Premieres on FOX June 7

by Holley Dey and Louise Uznanski

Cr: Ray Mickshaw/FOX
From left to right: Romeo, Jeremy Bloom, Jason Cook, DJ Pauly D

A cocktail waitress, a Ph.D. candidate and a volleyball coach are among the young women who compete on the Thursday, June 7 premiere of the FOX summer dating show, The Choice. Each hopes to convince one of four celebrity bachelors that she would be the evening’s perfect date. The catch? The all important preliminary round requires that the women use their voices alone to make their case; the men cannot see their potential partners. Read more

Please Don’t Play Electronica at My Funeral

Following two recent exchanges with my children, I have begun to contemplate my own mortality and musical legacy.  Please allow me to explain. Read more

To Blake Shelton: Be My Yellow Jacket

"Honey Bee" is the chart-topping lead single from Blake Shelton's new album. The melody is pleasant; the chorus has that repetitive, sing-song quality that makes for easy listening and quick recall. And yet I can't help but feel that the song and the singer are somewhat incongruous.

Read more

Taylor Hicks Concert Video: Guilty Musings

Video kindly shared by Bonnie Cheung; she’s innocent.

I didn’t hold the camera or press “record”.  I did encourage the videographer, and I did enjoy and share the recording.  Guilty, I am guilty of conspiracy – conspiracy to tape American Idol season 5 winner Taylor Hicks in concert.

Oh, I understand the implications here.  Didn’t rob the bank, but planned the heist and booked the getaway car.  Plotted the attack, but didn’t pull the trigger.  Guilty, perhaps more guilty than if I had been holding the camera.  So pass the prison pants, Martha Stewart, just take them in at the waist.

Now there is a reasonable basis for recording Taylor in concert.  Mr. Hicks has been generous to his fans; the following policy was posted on his official Facebook page in late March 2009:

In an effort to promote fan interaction, Taylor Hicks will now allow audience members to record most live solo shows and permits non-profit trading of the recordings.
 
The written policy did not differentiate between audio and video recording.  Since that message was posted, hundreds of both audio and video recordings have been captured and shared by fans.  Officially, I believe that my actions can therefore be classified as “fan interaction”.  It’s hardly my fault if I’m good at interacting. 
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My concern comes not from the finished product; I firmly believe that the recordings help to solidify the fan community, and to recruit others to the artist’s fanbase.  My lingering concern is the potential impact that live recording may have on the concert experience, not only for the fans in attendance but for the artist. 
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I’d like to address that topic in a future post.  For now, my guilty conscience has been soothed by the sure knowledge that you will enjoy the following video, captured at Mr. Hicks’ Vinyl Music Hall show, February 2011.  It is a great pleasure to interact with you. 
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Taylor Hicks, American Idol, and the Weather Forecast

During a May 2010 visit to Cleveland’s FOX 8 News Taylor Hicks was invited to deliver the weather report.  His charming take on the forecast was a hit, and Taylor subsequently joked “When you’re a musician, you always have to think of a back-up plan; who knows…”.

Let me say upfront that Taylor Hicks will never be your local weatherman, and later I’ll make clear why that back-up plan is not an option.

On the other hand, I do believe that future American Idol hopefuls should consider a stint as a weatherman before standing in the audition queue.  Let me explain.

1) Learn to manage unreasonable fan/media expectations

We’re rarely satisfied with the weather report.  The accuracy is limited, and the farther into the future the weather is predicted, the less likely the forecast will hold true.  One recent article suggested that we hold the weatherman accountable for his/her reports.  Run a comparison in the newspaper or on TV, says the writer, between the previous week’s forecasts and what actually happened.  Give the weatherman a grade.*

A good start, I think, but go further.  Run that comparison, and then consider the accuracy of forecasters in Cleveland versus those in Birmingham, or in Boston.  No matter that the complexity and uncertainty of the weather patterns in those cities may vary.  It doesn’t really matter whether the comparison is fair or appropriate.  I just want the numbers, and I want to report them over and over again.

In this way the aspiring American Idol contestant will be well prepared for unreasonable fan/media expectations, and for newspaper reports that focus on inapt comparisons of units sold, rather than on artistic merit.

2) Practice and perfect vocal performance skills on television

Here is an opportunity for Idol contestants to practice in front of a camera, to acclimate themselves to the glare of the lights and to deliver a memorable performance to the home television audience.  Don’t speak the weather report – sing, or beatbox, or rap it.

3) Establish your own brand

Shifts in the music industry mean that relatively few artists will be able to sustain a career solely based on album and concert ticket sales.  Many Idol alumni have found opportunities on Broadway (Taylor Hicks and Jordin Sparks among others) and in the movies (Jennifer Hudson and Carrie Underwood).  Use the weather report to brand yourself as a multifaceted entertainer; develop your acting, dancing and/or comedic talents.

The weather report could offer a platform to American Idol candidates who need to refine their entertainment skills while building confidence in front of a camera.  For experienced entertainers, that platform isn’t wide or long enough.

During his 2007 post Idol national concert tour, Taylor Hicks celebrated the fact that he was no longer limited to “two minutes of performance time” or interrupted by television commercials.  Take a good look at the length of the televised weather reports shown above.  Yes.  They’re just about two minutes in length.  The average length of a single Taylor Hicks song, performed live in concert?  Oh, I’d say about six minutes.

On any given concert night, several of the songs performed are presented jam band style as the Taylor Hicks band mixes songs within songs.  That simply does not work when delivering the weather report; mixing rain in Birmingham and snow in Boston would produce slush in Washington, or at least a good deal of confusion.

Finally, Taylor does not have the time to devote to satellite weather maps, not while his fans await a new album, and anticipate appearances on screens both big and small.  So I say, and I’ll say it twice, stick to your day job, Taylor Hicks.  Stick to your day job.

 
 Taylor Hicks Helps Scott with the Weather, posted with vodpod

*Fiction, Fact and the weatherman http://www.abc.net.au/news/stories/2010/11/17/3068724.htm

Back from the Gulf

All media happily captured at Miramar Beach, FL during the week of October 24, 2010.

The sand was thick and soft and white.  Even a light step was easily molded.  I spent the week hoping that the impression of my fractured second toe wouldn’t appear gargantuan against the delicate imprint of the sandpipers that walked close beside me.

Faced with the clear, emerald waters of northern Florida, it’s easy to put aside memories of the disaster that threatened the Gulf waters, coast, and wildlife, and that continues to damage the coastal economy.  It was only six months ago that an explosion on the Deepwater Horizon oil rig led to eleven deaths and the uncontrolled spill of nearly five million barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico.  It has only been three months since the spill was first arrested; the well was finally confirmed sealed on September 19.

After a night of high winds and turbulent surf, a reddish brown stain appeared on the sand outside my vacation rental, and I did wonder whether oil had been uncovered from deeper waters.  There were no tar balls on the northern Florida beach, however, and no other reminder of the oil spill disaster.  In contrast, “Operation Deep Clean” along the Alabama coastline has recently mobilized heavy equipment to remove tar balls buried in the sand, and the Louisiana coast is still described as “heavily oiled” in some parts.  While the active leak has been sealed, important clean-up work remains.

The economic impact of the spill has been considerable.  Fishing waters were restricted immediately after the accident, and have gradually been restored.  Hotels and restaurants that are usually filled during the summer vacation season were significantly impacted.  Hotel occupancy rates in Florida were down 30% this summer due to the perception of oil on the beaches. 

BP (British Petroleum) has set the end of 2010 as the target for full restoration of the pristine Gulf coast beaches.  Assuming that target is reached, and visual reminders of the oil spill are removed, I think that the challenge is then to keep the accident in the forefront of our collective public memory.

During the height of the crisis, photographs of the burning rig and plumes of oil were ready evidence of the damage done.  During the summer and early fall, beach restoration efforts have been in full public view.  Well publicized and well attended Gulf front concerts that featured stars including Jimmy Buffett, Brad Paisley, and Alan Jackson heightened awareness of the crisis and brought visitors and customers to the coast.  Alabama spokesperson Taylor Hicks lent his name and face to the cause, earnestly imploring Americans to “…see this catastrophic disaster through from beginning to the end”.

What is the end of this disaster?  Is it over when the beaches are clean, and no visible signs of the spill remain?  Is it over when the Gulf coast economy rebounds, when the hotels are full and the fishing boats again make daily trips?

Is this disaster ended when we insist upon and enforce stringent practice and safety standards that will minimize the likelihood of another blowout?  Or is this disaster finally over when acceptable sources of “clean” energy become available and offshore drilling in the Gulf is ended?

On October 12, the Obama administration ban on exploratory drilling in the Gulf of Mexico was lifted.  Reportedly, new requirements will make it more difficult to obtain a permit to drill.  Companies will be required to meet new standards for well design and demonstrate disaster readiness.  Safety equipment, including blowout preventers, will have to meet engineering standards and be independently certified.  Oil company chief executives will be required to personally guarantee that their rigs satisfy all applicable safety and environmental regulations.

Are these changes enough to ensure the health of the Gulf, and the well-being of those who depend on the Gulf for their livelihoods?  I don’t know.  I do think that we have a responsibility to remember what has happened, to continue to ask questions and to insist upon answers, even and especially when the sequelae of the oil spill are no longer clearly visible in the sand or headlined in the evening news.

For more on the oil spill disaster, efforts to stem the leak, and effects on wildlife, read here: http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2010/05/25/us/20100525-topkill-diagram.html

For more on lingering effects of the spill along the Gulf coast, read here: http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=130878588

For more on the moratorium on deepwater drilling, and new government regulations, read here: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/10/13/us/13drill.html?_r=1

Taylor Hicks on Tour: Hello Connecticut, Hudson Valley and Moonlight in Vermont

Louise/4Tay contributed this article and photos.   Infinity Hall poster created by Jenni Jac using a photo provided by NolaMarImages.  Taylor Hicks poster created by macpolski.

For Taylor’s tour schedule and ticket info: TaylorHicksNews on tap

As Taylor Hicks completes the taping of the Gulf Shores Special in Biloxi, Ms, his tour bus waits for him in Grand Junction, Colorado for his next stop on his Bad Ass Tour.  Facing a swing to Colorado followed by dates in Nevada, California and Florida that will take him to Labor Day weekend, Taylor’s fans wait excitedly in the Northeast to see his tour end as excitedly as they welcomed him at his first show at the Highline Ballroom in NYC on July 25th.

After a planned charity event in California, Taylor and his band of musicians will say hello to Connecticut on September 15th at Infinity Hall in Norfolk.  Nestled in the Northwest corner of the state, the theater is a cozy, historic and acoustically excellent venue to hear the soulful sounds of Taylor and his band.  Within a short driving distance from Philadelphia, New York City and Long Island, this is a venue and a show that should not be missed.  This excellent poster promoting the show says it all.  Blues, soul, rock and great musical presentation will delight audiences new and old.

The Hudson Valley in New York will be  filled with bright hues of the coming Fall season and it is a perfect backdrop for a musical event.  Making their way from Connecticut to New York’s Hudson Valley, the blue Prevost bus carrying Taylor and his band will arrive at their next destination: Westchester’s Best Musical Venue, the Tarrytown Music Hall in Tarrytown, New York for a September 16th show.  This show will put you in a perfect mood  for the musical feeling expressed in the following photo taken at Ram’s Head On Stage in Annapolis, Md. by macpolski.


Moonlight in Vermont takes us to the days in New England just before the frost hits the pumpkins and fallen leaves.  It’s riding in your convertible with the top down and a woolen hat on your head.  What better way to start the Fall season then to follow the bus from Connecticut to New York and then finally to Vermont for a September 18th show at the Paramount Theater in Rutland, Vermont.  The snow will not be on the mountains at Killington but the heat will be on at the Paramount.  Even the late, great Ray Charles found reason to sing a siren song beckoning the music traveller to come to Vermont.

Come to New England in the Fall and see the finishing touches on a tour that started out in Gotham and will end  in the land of Ben and Jerry’s, maple syrup and great musical venues that bring the best out of Taylor Hicks and all artists who venture there.  Maine in July gave us this.

New England can bring you the passion and artistry of Taylor Hicks’ music.  Make the trip.  It’s going to be an adventure.


American Idol Aftermath: A Historical Perspective

Before American Idol captivated audiences nationwide, another talent show enjoyed a long run on syndicated television.  From 1983 to 1995,  Star Search declared competition winners in male, female, group, and junior vocalist categories.  Many years later it’s interesting, and possibly instructive, to take another look at Star Search.  It’s particularly interesting to examine the contestants’ careers after the cameras stopped rolling, and to consider parallels with the American Idol graduates.

Not all of the Star Search contestants achieved highly visible careers in entertainment after the show ended.  Some of the runner-ups became more famous than the show winners.  Beyonce, Christina Aguilera, Justin Timberlake, and Britney Spears were all contestants on Star Search. 

None of them won.  Aguilera, Timberlake, and Spears were all recruited by Disney after the contest and benefited from consistent exposure to a national television audience through the Mickey Mouse Club, and from the continued support of the Disney company.

Season 1 male vocalist champion Sam Harris produced two early, well received albums following his Star Search win as well as several follow-up albums, and has worked continuously.  Perhaps best recognized for his contributions to theater, Harris was nominated for a Drama Desk award for his performance as Doody in the original Broadway revival of GREASE, and has worked intermittently in both television and film.  He has written as well as performed for the stage. His acclaimed Star Search performance of “Over the Rainbow” follows:

Season 2 male vocalist winner, Durell Coleman produced one album following his television victory, and subsequently toured in support of Anita Baker and BB King, among others.  There was no follow-up album.  In 1990 he joined the Los Angeles based Al McKay’s All Stars as vocal director and lead singer.  In the mid 1990′s he organized the Durell Coleman Band, a special events band that provides entertainment for private parties and large corporate events in southern California.

Kenny James was the 1986 grand champion in the male vocalist category.

His musical efforts received limited attention after the competition ended; James is now a vocalist/performer on the cruise ship circuit.

David Nelson Slater was the 1987 male vocalist champion.  He subsequently released two critially acclaimed country albums, but has since had difficulty with the law, serving jail time for forgery and theft.  He now lives and continues to sing in Nashville.

It’s difficult to draw generalizations from such a small sample, but it does seem that diversification helps, and that American Idol contestants may benefit from expanding their brand beyond singing into other entertainment avenues.  And not surprisingly, added face time in front of the television camera works.  What’s also true  is that talent is not enough to ensure a healthy career in the industry.  All of the Star Search contestants and winners could sing, and sing well.

Why a Reworked American Idol Won’t Work

The  judges panel in turmoil, a shrinking talent pool, the music industry in flux: all are potential reasons for American Idol to rethink and retool its television franchise.  There are signficant incentives for designing a fix to the Idol woes.  Big money and bigger egos are at stake.  Yet even if the judging troika found common ground, and a young Britney Spears presented herself at auditions, would that be enough to guarantee a future for the television show?

I contend that it would not be enough, and in support of that contention, I offer you Mr. Simon Cowell.  Yes, I do mean that Simon Cowell, the ascerbic British judge with the limited wardrobe and bad haircut.  His interest in music leans more to commercial potential than artistic merit, but Mr. Cowell understands business, and he understands human nature.

Simon cited boredom as one of his reasons for departing Idol, and frankly, we’re bored too.  Every popular television show from Seinfeld to Friends to The Sopranos has a limited lifespan as the concept becomes too familiar and the characters predictable.  Take for example the talent show Star SearchStar Search enjoyed a long run in syndication, generating winners and also rans from 1983 to 1995.  The show introduced talent that still works the music industry today, including Mickey Mouse Club members Justin Timberlake, Britney Spears, and Christina Aguilera.  Yet despite the success of its alumni, the show ended, and a shortlived relaunch on CBS lasted only from 2003 to 2004.  Enough is enough.

We share a national ennui, fueled by the ready availability of digital entertainment and our ever shortening attention spans.  We are tweeters, not writers.  We scan; we don’t read.  To quote Jeff Goldblum’s character in The Big Chill, “Any article for People can be no longer than the average person can read while taking a crap.”  We expect, even demand, myriad entertainment options, and we want those options now, albeit briefly.

That American Idol has held our attention this long is a testament to the original construct and staffing of the show.  Waning interest is an expected outcome associated with longevity.  While his taste in both clothing and music may be suspect, Simon Cowell has shown an uncanny ability to predict public sentiment and follow the money.  His departure from the show signals an inevitable, although gradual decline to the end.

 

This essay is solely the opinion of the author, and does not necessarily reflect the view of the entire Taylorhicksnews on tap editorial staff.

Tomorrow on the blog:  American Idol afterlife: a historical perspective

Thursday on the blog:  Taylor Hicks National Tour: A Photo Essay

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