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Music Review: Lee Hazlewood - The LHI Years: Singles, Nudes, and Backsides

 
By: Jeff Daily
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May 14, 2012
 
If you don't listen to Lee Hazlewood, YOU SHOULD. There. Settled that. If there is one word for the music of Lee Hazlewood it is "essential." As a producer he was innovative (dig Duane Eddy's "twang" guitar sound all reverbed out). As a songwriter he was twisted (find "Some Velvet Morning"). As a singer he was prickly (think a perpetually hungover southern gentleman who smokes eight packs of cigs a day or gargles rusty nails for fun). Hazlewood recorded music that was hard to pin down. Was he pop? Lounge? Acid fried country crooner? He was all those and more plus his mustache made him look like a dead ringer for Sonny Bono! SERIOUSLY.

From encouraging a young Phil Spector to writing/producing one of the great bitchy jams of all time for Nancy Sinatra  ("These Boots Are Made for Walking") to just being plain unique in an industry all about being predictable, Hazlewood is an artist students of pop music should strive to hear every single second of...warts and all. Thanks to several artists in the 90s like Beck and Sonic Youth, Hazlewood's name was kept alive and his recordings became easier to find after a time when they were relatively obscure. A label called Light in the Attic is starting another Lee-revival with the recently released compilation The LHI Years: Singles, Nudes, and Backsides (1968-71). The set gathers tracks he recorded after creating his independent Lee Hazlewood Industries label.

Some readers will know Nancy Sinatra and Hazlewood had several big hits as a singing team in the mid 60s ("Jackson," "Summer Wine," etc), but Hazlewood wasn't a one woman man and there are several great duets here including songs with Ann-Margret, Suzi Jane Hokum, and Nina Lizell. The most interesting tracks here are from one of Hazlewood's more idiosyncratic albums (and weirdest endeavors) Cowboy in Sweden. The project was a TV special he made in 1970 while living in the land of ABBA and though its not a great TV show, the soundtrack is dynamite. "Hey Cowboy," features a wonderful melody and vocal by Lizell and "The Night Before" is one of the grooviest mallet instrument led tracks I've ever heard. As a solo singer he is just as captivating as he is while singing with the ladies. There are three songs on this comp from his 1971 album Requiem for an Almost Lady which are great for brokenhearted gin soaked nights of despair. When he sings from the point of view of a man just let out of the drunk tank on "If It's Monday Morning" the lyrics seem torn from the autobiography Hazlewood never wrote. The drunken sound of heartbreak is the LP Requiem for an Almost Lady.

As a compilation The LHI Years works as a fairly good entry point to the work of one of America's great sonic madmen. It could and should convert a great many new listeners too. Those already familiar with LH will want to hear the one previously unreleased track here, "I Just Learned to Run." It isn't the most noteworthy of tunes, but it does fit in with the overall high quality tracks he produced during the time period this album covers. Now run to the record store and get lost in the music of this poet bum you fool!

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