Tangled Tales

Dan Hicks & The Hot Licks

Tom Waits once said, “Dan Hicks is fly, sly, wily and dry!” Elvis Costello remarked, “Dan Hicks is an American Treasure.” And Bette Midler praised him with: “Dan Hicks is lightning in a bottle.” With these kinds of accolades, how could I not sample the latest from Dan Hicks and the Hot Licks, Tangled Tales? Ol’ Bette, Tom W. and Elvis are right — D.H. is pretty much witty, wonderful and original. The 12 tunes here have a plucky, straight-ahead Americana roots vibe through and through. That’s eight originals and the rest are from the early 1900s. In addition to the blisteringly perfect Hot Licks, Hicks is joined by the likes of instrumental virtuosos David Grisman, Charlie Musselwhite, and slide-guitarist Roy Rogers, to gives the record an extra shot of worthiness.

We start with opener “Who Are You,” an up-and-running tune with some up-front fiddle and spot-on backing vocals. “The Diplomat” has some of the same feel, but a witty lyric and guitar work slightly reminiscent of Django Reinhardt. “Song For My Father” chugs along nicely as an instrumental for the most part and I wished it would have stayed so. “The Rounder” features some more great fiddle and inspired slide from Rogers. “13-D” sounds like Leon Redbone, but may have the best lyric and vocal on the entire record. “Ragtime Cowboy Joe” is pure fun, jaunty cowboy ragtime (this really does remind me of Leon Redbone!), but I really dig the quieter “The Magician.” The guitar playing is magnificent and the vocals roll along, creating a nice, languid tapestry.

There’s a cover of Bob Dylan’s “Subterranean Homesick Blues” with a Hot Licks flavor. The title track is fast and scat-able, while “Let It Simmer” is a great way to wind things down. No doubt, Dan Hicks, the Hot Licks and guests deliver a stunning collection of wacky, wild and slyly played tunes produced by Grammy-winner Chris Goldsmith (Blind Boys of Alabama). And they manage to tell some Tangled Tales along the way.

~ Ralph Greco, Jr.

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