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May 2009

Dan Hicks & the Hot Licks
Tangled Tales
Surfdog

Dan Hicks has been working as a deadpan hipster for more than 40 years, and he has the scars to prove it. Making records since 1969, usually accompanied by various configurations of Hot Licks, Hicks shrewdly melds hot gypsy jazz, country swing, folk, blues, beat and bluegrass, all without ever breaking a sweat. On his latest collection, Hicks balances solid original compositions against a few well-chosen covers. His droll vocal delivery is smooth, fast and confident (he even scats), and the backing voices of Lick-ettes Roberta Donnay and the surname-free Daria never leave him too exposed.

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Dan Hicks

He also swings on rhythm guitar and is nimbly supported by guitarist Dave Bell, violinist Richard Chon, string bassist Paul Smith and drummer Brian Simpson. Besides cool tunes and a hot band, this disc showcases the talents of notable guests like mandolinist David Grisman, guitarists Roy Rogers and Bruce Forman, and harmonica veteran Charlie Musselwhite. One of the more sensitive moments here is a vocal rendition of Horace Silver’s “Song for My Father,” replete with a winsome verse sung in Spanish near the end. Another smart cover is the arrangement of Bob Dylan’s “Subterranean Homesick Blues,” a dizzying romp requiring an exacting surplus of vocal and instrumental control. None of which should take away from Hicks’ abilities as a songwriter and song stylist. Idiosyncratic originals like “Who Are You,” “The Diplomat,” “13-D” and the title track all reveal Hicks to be a seasoned performer working within a wise, swinging dimension all his own.

Originally published in May 2009
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