Writing about music is like dancing about architecture

Wednesday, 8 February 2012


 One of the joys of Lee Hazlewood is his inconsistency. You can never be quite sure on any record how many gems there are going to be. It may be a stone cold classic of hard-lived, wry, country magic like Requiem for An Almost Lady (read about it here). Or it might only have one or two treasures such Poet Fool or Bum. Or sometimes, even within the same song, he might veer from the heart-wrenchingly beautiful to the easy listening schlock. He is never predictable, and never boring. Every one of his records is worthy of you attention and, if you give it enough time, even the songs you initially dismissed will become much loved favourites.
So it is with this record. Recorded when he was, you've guessed it, forty, this LP uses Hazlewood's full repertoire of tricks. Country, slide guitar; soft, wordless female vocals; muted mariachi brass; his deadpan, gruff, singing style; swooping strings; and an impeccable choice of songs - you can expect them all.
I would guess that in some way this is a personal, autobiographical record. What does it say about the great man? I'm not sure. It says that he has loved, lost, recovered from his broken heart and loved again. It says that he has overcome all the problems that life has thrown at him and come out the other side, if not triumphant, then at least stronger and unbowed.
There is always something dark about Lee. He looks into the heart of darkness, and finding only darkness, laughs and proceeds to enjoy himself before it is too late.
This is a record by an adult, for adults, that talks about some of the complex turmoil of grown up love, rather than the juvenile broken heart stories of most pop songs aimed at teenagers. But it also looks back at lost opportunities. Songs like It Was A Very Good Year (surely a nod to the father of his most famous partner!), Wait Till Next Year and even September Song, one of the least successful on the record, speak of past failures and past triumphs.
Lee, ever quotable, wrote some fine sleeve notes which deserve to be repeated here:
"Somewhere between the day I was born and yesterday when I turned FORTY, I made some plans ... but like most plans of Moose and Men, they were subject to change. In fact, they were subject to so much change, I've thought many times I was living someone else's life. Needless to say, I had to learn to compromise and make a few little compromises.
I wanted to be 6' tall ... I had to settle for 5'7".
I wanted to be handsome... I've had to learn to live with a commercial kind of ugliness.
I wanted to write a new national anthem (one with a lot less notes so my peanuts would digest easier at football games) ... I've had to be content with little children pointing accusing fingers at me and shouting ... 'the funny looking one with the moustache; he wrote Boots, Mama.'
I wanted to play such fantastic guitar as to make Chet Atkins and Jerry Reid feel insecure ... but I've just been awarded a gold statue from the California Piano Makers Association with this inscription ... 'This award is given to Mr Lee Hazlewood (for the 9th consecutive year) for we believe his guitar playing has been a most deciding factor toward increasing piano sales. 'Keep pickin', Lee!'
Yes I've learned to compromise; after FORTY years it's a way of life ... an art form ..
I've always wanted my tombstone to read:
Lee Hazlewood
ONE OF AMERICA'S "---------------"
but I suppose by the time I'm EIGHTY. I'll have to settle for:
Lee Hazlewood

As usual with Lee, some of the tracks reappear elsewhere. In this case on Movin' On which also has some tracks from Requiem for an Almost Lady.

Finally, this record was recorded in London and is a Shel Talmy production. Did Shel produce as well? I haven't been able to find out. Big Jim Sullivan was also involved - always a good sign.
Here are some of the tracks, enjoy.

It Was A Very Good Year: One of Sinatra's classics. Poignant and sad, Lee doesn't seem quite so happy about the passage of time! Some interesting orchestration and piano work. I think the clip clop effect and the 'trad jazz' banjo, muted horn and clarinet also work well for the cowboy in exile.

What's More I Don't Need Her: I love the strings and flutes on this track - so haunting and aching. "We discovered what love means, and then watched it fall apart" - amazing!

The Night Before: A high point of the record. How can anyone not be moved by this? Sterling drum work underpins a song of love and loss and regret (and too much whiskey!) Its a night that he clearly doesn't want to remember!

The Bed: More love and loss. Arranged by Big Jim Sullivan. "What good is there in living, when the dreams of love are dead" - what a suicide note!

Paris Bells: One of the least successful tracks on the record. The arrangement is just too 'easy' for me.

Wait Till Next Year: One of two tracks by Randy Newman. There's something about it that reminds me of Toy Story. Nevertheless a fun rollicking song that Lee delvers with his Suzi Jane is Back in Town voice.

No clip for September Song - but that's ok as its not all that good.

Let's Burn Down the Cornfield: Is that Big Jim on guitar? The second Randy Newman track and a real corker. Sultry and funky and sexy. Yum! Some great organ playing too. Randy's version is on his second album but stick with this one.

Bye Baby: Written by Shel Talmy and J. Marks this has dark brooding lyrics set to some beautiful acoustic guitar and organ work.

No clip for the last track Mary.


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