Three studio albums into his 21st-century comeback, Hicks is squarely in the groove. Taken as a whole, the melodies, lyrics, vocals and musicianship on “Tales” are nearly as good as on 1972’s “Striking It Rich,” arguably the artistic zenith for his heady mixture of good-time/old-time swing, folk, country and jazz with a lyrical dose of wry humor that never fails to bring a smile.
From 1978’s “It Happened One Bite” to 2000’s “Beatin’ the Heat,” Hicks’ only release was 1994’s “Shootin’ Straight” with the Acoustic Warriors, from which he reprises five numbers here: “Who Are You,” “Savin’ My Lovin’,” “The Rounder,” “13-D” and “A Magician.”
Given that “Shootin’ Straight” is out of print, and since it was kind of botched by the unnecessary addition of studio drums (unless you were lucky enough to get the pre-official version from Hicks at one of his shows), it’s nice to hear those tracks rerecorded, some even guest-embellished by Charlie Musselwhite’s chromatic harmonica, Roy Rogers’ slide guitar and Richard Greene’s violin.
Guests on the rest of the disc include mandolinist David Grisman, guitarist Bruce Forman and accordionist Austin deLone, as well as Musselwhite, Rogers and Greene again. Hicks (who sings lead and plays rhythm) and a core group of two female backup singers, lead guitar, string bass, violin and drums comprise the classic Hot Licks lineup.
The four cover songs are “The Blues My Naughty Baby Gave to Me” aka “Blues (My Naughty Sweetie Gives to Me),” a 1919 fox-trot that later became a Dixieland standard whose list of ways to get the blues has been expanded over the years to 17; “Song for My Father” (vocal version), the Horace Silver composition to which Ellen May Sashoyan added words in 1969 for Leon Thomas; the 1912 hit “Ragtime Cowboy Joe,” which Hicks tagged silly lyrics onto at the end; and Bob Dylan’s “Subterranean Homesick Blues,” the perfect vehicle for his rapid-fire vocal delivery.
The scat-singing title track and “Let It Simmer,” a laid-back lounge piece replete with strings and a whistling interlude, round out the set.
1. Who Are You?
2. The Diplomat
3. Savin’ My Lovin’
4. The Blues My Naughty Baby Gave To Me
5. Song For My Father
6. The Rounder
8. Ragtime Cowboy Joe
9. A Magician
10. Subterranean Homesick Blues
11. Tangled Tales
12. Let It Simmer!
Total time: 49:51