Dan Hicks created a totally unique style of popular music, based on a fusion of "hot" jazz in the Django Reinhart style and country swing. Totally acoustic and totally unlike anything I can remember at the time or since. This is a record that has haunted me since I bought the original vinyl version back in the seventies. Tracks range from parodic country numbers, such as I'm An Old Cowhand (From The Rio Grande), through instrumental tours de force, such as Philly Rag, to masterpieces of emotional, ensemble playing, such as I Scare Myself. This is a record that makes me laugh, gasp and wince with emotion. It is perfectly put together and captures the seventies dream of music without pretension and without boundaries, which got swallowed by pomp rock and metal.
Kicking off with the superbly jazzy You Got To Believe, sashaying along on the superb walking-bass line provided by Jaime 'Skippy Sanchez' Leopold's 'bull fiddle' (double bass), we're served up another eclectic musical gumbo from Hicks and co. This has some of my favourites, like You Got To Believe and Canned Music (and some of the instrumentals), but also some of the Hicks numbers I like least (O'Reilly At The Bar), and a few where I sometimes really like them, and sometimes really don't, such as Moody Richard.
The musicianship is terrific throughout, 'Symphony' Sid Page's violin solo on I Scare Myself literally making my hair stand on end. Some of the instrumentals are wonderful, and the musical aspects of this album are uniformly terrific; so, for example, whist I'm not sure about Moody Richard as a song, the instrumental/mandolin-solo section is terrific. There are also three 'hot-jazz' type instrumentals, Flight Of The Fly, Philly Rag, and the Brubeck penned Fujiyama.
One of Hicks's best known numbers, along with the aforementioned Canned Music, is I Scare Myself, which he re-recorded for his 2000 comeback project, Beatin' The Heat. One feels that this is one of those self-referential numbers he specialises in, but here focussing on the dark obverse to the upbeat Walkin' One And Only, which was the happier second track. Both his own Canned Music, and Johnny Mercer's Old Cowhand reveal his 'old-timey' side, and both are terrific, mixing his ever-present gentle humour, full of wit and irony - not things we usually feel Americans are generally great at - with an endearing and curmudgeonly earnestness.
As usual Hicks shares the vocal spotlight on a few tracks with his 'Lick-Ettes', Maryan Price singing Cowhand, and fiddler Naomi Eisenberg even getting to sing her own song, on Presently In The Past. Although this might be deemed sacrilegious by hardcore Hicks fans, I could live without some of the more humourous tracks, like The Laughing Song, or the set-closer Skippy's Farewell, both of which in an album context fall into the novelty bag, albeit they're certainly a signature part of the whole Hicks vibe. Having seen him perform live, I can see why this stuff was recorded: it works far better on stage and in person, but it's good to have it documented in the studio as well.
So, a very mixed bag, and even quite patchy in places, but since there's no one quite like Dan Hicks, and the best is truly wonderful, it just about clinches five stars in my world.
I'm buying this on cd because my vinyl disc has reached browse only status; I heard it first in 1973 when nothing particularly fantastic was happening in rock n roll; too old for Bowie, too bored with solo albums...then this came on a pirate radio station when I was working in Amsterdam. I was as instantly mesmerised by this as I was with all those musical epiphanies – Miles, Bob, The Beatles, Eric Dolphy, Tom Waits, Joni...you know the feeling when you just have to have it. It pressed all the right buttons, hit all the pleasure centres and me wondering what had hit me. Was this country? Was it jazz? Was it just good, even great music? Yes, that was it! And it lasts; Dan hicks is definitely guilty of writing classic songs that just sort of belong. I think there's a long loveletter from Ben Sidran on the sleeve. He's a genius, by the way. All his records are beautiful and meticulous – full of subtlety and and rare wit. Go get them all, now. Tom Waits said he was fly, dry, sly and wry. And he's never wrong...
Dan Hicks was and is a strange guy.. as equally renowned for his sparky, unpleasant personality as for his wistful, comic songs. He enjoyed a brief flutter of success with the Hot Licks in 1970-1972,with two albums in particular worth snapping up.. striking it rich and where's the money. Money is the live one.. arguably the better album, complete with Hick's strange on stage announcements. But striking it rich is the more accessible.. It's a sort of aural equivalent of a Robert Crumb cartoon, loosely based on a sort of Django Reinhart sound, but spiced up with some wonderfully barbed lyrics. There are some stand-out moments: I scare myself, with a wonderful violin solo; a sexy I'm an old cowhand.. and my favourite the Laughing song, which in a few short minutes leaves you scratching your head. Is he serious or what? Americans, some say, are woefully short of comic irony.. but Hicks has it in spades, and if you are up to clever but listenable-to music then try this. This was,is, and ever will be a great, great and eccentric record.
1. You Got To Believe 2. Walkin' One And Only 3. O'Reilly At The Bar 4. Moody Richard (The Innocent Bystander) 5. Flight Of The Fly 6. I Scare Myself 7. Philly Rag 8. The Laughing Song 9. Canned Music 10. I'm An Old Cowhand (From The Rio Grand) 11. Woe, The Luck 12. Presently In The Past 13. Skippy's Farewell 14. Fujiyama