The Only Hip Person There Is

Alive and Lickin' (Surfdog)
Dan Hicks and the Hot Licks

By David Lilly

Can you believe Dan Hicks has completed 60 years of living - but "only" 40-plus years as a professional musician? Of course, you know who Dan Hicks is ... right? Maybe not, since he's among those musicians who has earned credibility with critics and his peers, but he's never been a household name. If you do know him, you might not be aware of it.

How many professional musicians have been playing since the late 1960s, have released fewer than a dozen albums (Alive and Lickin' is his 11th) and have a guest list as diverse as Rikki Lee Jones, Brian Setzer, Bette Midler, Elvis Costello and Tom Waits - on the same album? The answer: maybe thousands, but definitely one. If you guessed "just my man, Dan," then I have no choice but to recommend his 2000 release, Beatin' The Heat. But I'm not here to plug that CD, so hang around and I'll try to find all the right adjectives for the latest release by this rare artist who fits into both categories of "you'll either love him or hate him," and "give him time and he'll grow on you." While Hicks' voice sounds nothing like Garrison Keillor's, if you can imagine "the wine tasting" version of "A Prairie Home Companion," you can get a good feel for this disc.

An "old" sound effectively starts this CD. The intro sounds like a 78rpm record (or a transistor radio with two speakers), which might be the last thing one expects to hear from modern technology. That's one reason it's so cool. No Hicks show would be complete without hearing "I Got Mine," or "Shootin' Straight." When you hear Hicks gently poking an elbow at Tom Waits' "The Piano Has Been Drinking," and then start playing his smooth version with a folksy, jazz flavor (which is mostly what Hicks does) and singing with his smooth voice, you might wonder whether you're listening to a concert or a party with music.

Fortunately, the answer is both. About three quarters of the way through the show things slow down and heat up a bit as the maestro leads everyone through, "Comes Love," almost a dead ringer for "Chocolate Jesus," by the same guy who wrote the aforementioned song about an inebriated piano. "Payday Blues" is sure to thrill fans of country music. That there is a pinch of country bouillon in this musical soup is my only problem with the entire disc. Not to worry, though, because it is only a pinch, and I recommend the disc. Want more information on Mr. Dan? Check out