Unissued until 1998, these tracks were recorded in 1967 and 1968, and serve as the missing link between Hicks' days in the Charlatans and his solo career. Thirteen of the 20 songs were recorded by Hicks in October 1967 (when he was still in the Charlatans) as a publishing demo and produced by Nick Reynolds of the Kingston Trio; it was intended both to shop Hicks' compositions to other artists, and to serve as an example of what he could be capable of as a solo artist. The sound on this disc (aside from a snatch of Hicks doing "Home on the Range" in 1953) is very good and clear, usually utilizing accompaniment from other musicians; David LaFlamme, soon to form It's a Beautiful Day, plays violin on the Reynolds-produced numbers. Historical details out of the way, this is a fine disc on its own terms, not as psychedelically inclined as the Charlatans, and not as Western swing-oriented as his work with the Hot Licks. Like the Holy Modal Rounders and Norman Greenbaum (of Dr. West's Medicine Show & Junk Band), Hicks updated old-timey folk music with contemporary attitude and rock/psychedelic influences. He wasn't as weird as the Rounders or Greenbaum, but he had a similar off-kilter sense of humor and affinity for ticklish wordplay; he was also more melodic and accessible than either of those acts. Early Muses has a few songs that went on to become some of the more popular items in his Hot Licks repertoire ("How Can I Miss You When You Won't Go Away?," "The Innocent Bystander," "Canned Music"), but most of the rest, which include some songs totally unavailable elsewhere, is well up to that standard. "Shall I Ask an Elf?" and "I've Got a Capo on My Brain" are good examples of his engaging screwball humor with its bemused view of life as a gentle cosmic joke. Cuts like "The Gypsy's Secret," "He Don't Care" (with its unusual autoharp), and "The Innocent Bystander" illustrate his deft way with unconventional and attractive minor-key melodies that fork off in unexpected directions. Heartily recommended to those looking for '60s music combining folk, psychedelia, and witty songwriting.
AllMusic Review by Richie Unterberger