Saturday, August 26, 2000

New & Noted: Beatin' the Heat

Dan Hicks takes cue from Santana's comeback

By Larry Nager
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Stop me if you've heard this one — aging San Francisco music icon returns on a CD with high-profile help.

        No, not Supernatural. Beatin' the Heat, in stores Tuesday, is an even more unlikely comeback.

        In the early '70s, heyday of Led Zeppelin and CSN&Y, Dan Hicks & the Hot Licks seemed to have dropped from another planet. The group mixed vintage swing with a wry lyrical slant borrowed from Zap Comics. The result was a sort of Hot Club of Haight Ashbury, with hangdog hepcat Hicks on vocals and rhythm guitar.

 Beatin' the Heat
 Surfdog; 3 1/2 stars
  $16.98 CD only

        Like those underground comics, Mr. Hicks was far more influential than commercially successful. The group broke up about 1976 and he has since made several low-key solo albums.

        Beatin' the Heat should help return him to the spotlight, featuring Lickette wannabes Bette Midler, Brian Setzer, Tom Waits, Elvis Costello and Rickie Lee Jones.

        The 15 songs include the Hot Licks classic “I Scare Myself.” It's recast as a duet with Ms. Jones and updated with hip-hop beats and a Turkish accent.

        The Divine Miss M duets on the bossa nova-styled “Strike It While It's Hot,” while the uptempo jive of “Meet Me On the Corner” features Mr. Costello on vocals, backed by Mr. Setzer's twangy guitar.

        But though the cameos add more variety, the CD doesn't need it. When Mr. Hicks is in good form, as he is here, he's hard to beat.

        Aging stoners are the subject of “He Don't Care.” “I Don't Want Love,” a rewrite of Phil Harris' “That's What I Like About the South,” unfavorably compares romance's appetite loss with favorite foods.

        “Hell I'd Go!” is Mr. Hicks' bopping request to aliens to “plunk that saucer down by me.” And his flashback world view is on display in “The Piano Has Been Drinking (Not Me)” and the closer, “I've Got a Capo on My Brain.”

        With sharp, funny songs and a tight, swinging band, Mr. Hicks and his Hot Licks sound as fresh and original as they did 30 years ago.

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