The iconoclastic Lee Hazlewood adorns the cover of this retrospectiverelease, trademark moustache intact, surrounded by a gaggle ofbeautiful, naked women who are also with his trademark moustache intact, oneach and every one of them. Subtitled ‘Singles, Nudes and Backsides’,Lee Hazlewood’s reputation seems to straddle between ground-breakingsongwriter and frivolous, eccentric rascal, capable of moments of realgenius and unadulterated corn.
Hazlewood’s career has interesting parallels with Scott Walker– both committed Europhiles and both with rather dubious output in themid 1970s before a 1990s reappraisal. And it is Hazlewood’s Europeanfling – most notably his time spent in Scandinavia, recording thewonderful Cowboy In Sweden – which this compilation primarily focusesupon. Already famous for writing and crooning These Boots Are MadeFor Walkin’ with Nancy Sinatra, Hazlewood continued hispenchant for male-female duets throughout his LHI years with NinaLizell, Suzi Jane Hokom and Swedish actressAnn-Margret all featuring on the album.
These duets, particularly Leather and Lace, display Hazlewood’s forlavishly orchestrated melancholia The female vocal generally plays therole of the winsome, whimsical coquette with Hazlewood intoning thedark narrative of the straight man. In fact, the coquette is taken toquite humorous extremes with Ann-Margret chuckling at “summer…it sureis a bummer!” on Sleep In The Grass – a sure sign of the times whichlends a quaint air to the bruised and solemn country stylings ondisplay.
LHI was Hazlewood’s own imprint, famous for signing theInternational Submarine Band with featured a certain GramParsons but later refused to release him to work on the Byrdsalt-country precursor Sweetheart of the Rodeo. Yet Hazlewood laysclaim himself to be some form of guru looming large on thecountry-rock genre. His solo vocal works displayed here becomeincreasingly dark and twisted. While initially revealing his “eyes area little blurred for a Monday morning”, this soon turns to he’s”rejected the Establishment completely…he just goes from place toplace stirring up the young folk until their nothing but adisrespectful mob” on Trouble Maker.
Despite the occasional hippy-dippyness, there is an elegance toHazlewood’s work. This is conveyed not just by his rich baritone butalso the arrangements which are lush and on the verge of teeteringinto the overtly-cheesy. Hazlewood manages to nail the baroque to thepop, a combination which seems almost too threatening for the era.Come On Home To Me is a particular standout, a lonesome lament with anundercoat of danger.
It’s this slightly off-kilter approach whichgives Hazlewood his mercurial status – despite his mainstream successduring the Sinatra years, his output seems to exist in some transientspace between myriad genres and styles, without ever really committinghimself to any one approach. In that sense, it makes sense that thiscompilation is formed from releases on his own label. Theeccentricities may have been obtuse at the time and, 40 years on,they still are. The sign of a true iconoclast.