Just where to place the free-range music of Dan Hicks & His Hot Licks
-- are they country? jazz? rock? Western swing? comedy? -- has always been a nettlesome problem, confounding the public and hyphen-crazy critics alike. For Hicks and his all-acoustic band were certainly all of those genres and then some, a marvelous amalgam of American music with a large dollop of humor thrown in for good measure. Subtitled "The Blue Thumb Years, 1971-1973," this 16-track collection touches on all of the group's major stylistic bases and more, making this a greatest-hits album on a group who never really had a hit. Pulling half a dozen tracks from their debut album, Where's the Money
? (the title track, "I Feel Like Singing," "Reelin' Down," "Dig a Little Deeper," "News from Up the Street," and "The Buzzard Was Their Friend"), seven tracks from Striking It Rich
("Canned Music," "Walkin' One and Only," "The Innocent Bystander," "I Scare Myself" [which later became a hit for techno rocker Thomas Dolby
], the wry humor of "Presently in the Past," "You Gotta Believe," Maryann Price
's sendup of "I'm an Old Cowhand [From the Rio Grande]"), and three from their swan-song album, Last Train to Hicksville the Home of Happy Feet
("My Old Timey Baby," "Sweetheart [Waitress in a Donut Shop]," and "Long Comma Viper"), this hits almost all the high spots with not a lick of filler anywhere to be found. The transfers to disc sound vivid and dimensional, and the liners by compilation producer and music historian Todd Everett
are fun, provocative, and spot-on, getting into just what made this group so special. As all three of their albums are available on compact disc, this compilation makes an excellent first-purchase introduction to this band.