The iconoclastic Lee Hazlewood adorns the cover of this retrospective release, trademark moustache intact, surrounded by a gaggle of beautiful, naked women who are also with his trademark moustache intact, on each and every one of them. Subtitled ‘Singles, Nudes and Backsides’, Lee Hazlewood’s reputation seems to straddle between groundbreaking songwriter and frivolous, eccentric rascal, capable of moments of real genius and unadulterated corn.
Hazlewood’s career has interesting parallels with Scott Walker– both committed Europhiles and both with rather dubious output in the mid-1970s before a 1990s reappraisal. And it is Hazlewood’s European fling – most notably his time spent in Scandinavia, recording the wonderful Cowboy In Sweden – which this compilation primarily focuses upon. Already famous for writing and crooning These Boots Are Made For Walkin’ with Nancy Sinatra, Hazlewood continued his penchant for male-female duets throughout his LHI years with Nina Lizell, Suzi Jane Hokom and Swedish actress Ann-Margret all featuring on the album.
These duets, particularly Leather and Lace, display Hazlewood’s for lavishly orchestrated melancholia The female vocal generally plays the role of the winsome, whimsical coquette with Hazlewood intoning the dark narrative of the straight man. In fact, the coquette is taken to quite humorous extremes with Ann-Margret chuckling at “summer… it sure is a bummer!” on Sleep In The Grass – a sure sign of the times which lends a quaint air to the bruised and solemn country stylings on display.
LHI was Hazlewood’s own imprint, famous for signing the International Submarine Band with featured a certain Gram Parsons but later refused to release him to work on the Byrds alt-country precursor Sweetheart of the Rodeo. Yet Hazlewood lays claim himself to be some form of guru looming large on the country-rock genre. His solo vocal works displayed here become increasingly 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 to place stirring up the young folk until their nothing but a disrespectful mob” on Trouble Maker.
Despite the occasional hippy-dippyness, there is an elegance to Hazlewood’s work. This is conveyed not just by his rich baritone but also the arrangements which are lush and on the verge of teetering into the overtly-cheesy. Hazlewood manages to nail the baroque to the pop, a combination which seems almost too threatening for the era.Come On Home To Me is a particular standout, a lonesome lament with an undercoat of danger.
It’s this slightly off-kilter approach which gives Hazlewood his mercurial status – despite his mainstream success during the Sinatra years, his output seems to exist in some transient space between myriad genres and styles, without ever really committing himself to any one approach. In that sense, it makes sense that this compilation is formed from releases on his own label. The eccentricities may have been obtuse at the time and, 40 years on, they still are. The sign of a true iconoclast.