Brian Hiatt
May 21, 2004 AT 04:00 AM EDT

Soul revivalist Ricky Fante has won praise from Isaac Hayes and has opened for Al Green. But Wilson Pickett — whom the 26-year-old portrayed earlier this year on NBC’s American Dreams — is unlikely to join the fan club. Blame ”It Ain’t Easy,” a horn-fattened ballad credited to Fante and his songwriting team on his debut, Rewind.

The song’s belted hook is identical to that of another horn-heavy ballad called ”It Ain’t Easy,” recorded by Pickett in 1999. When Jon Tiven, cowriter of the Pickett tune, heard Fante’s single, he cried plagiarism (initially in Roger Friedman’s column). ”It’s real obvious to anyone hearing it that they stole my song,” says Tiven, who also noticed that the Fante track ”Drive” resembles the Otis Redding-recorded classic ”You Left the Water Running.”

So was it theft, oversight, or mere coincidence? Fante isn’t talking. But after flatly denying Tiven’s claims, his label, Virgin, has given the original songwriters credits and royalties. ”This happens in our business all the time and has been resolved,” the label said in a statement. ”We’re proud of Ricky Fante’s album.” Pride aside, they added that the CD will now come out in July, two months after its first scheduled release date.

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