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Lee Hazelwood - The Very Special World of Lee Hazlewood / Lee Hazlewoodism: Its Cause and Cure / Something Special

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Artist: Lee Hazelwood

Album: The Very Special World of Lee Hazlewood / Lee Hazlewoodism: Its Cause and Cure / Something Special

Label: Water

Review date: Jan. 30, 2008

What is there to say about the late Lee Hazlewood? You could complain about his relative neglect in relation to the ongoing valorisation of contemporaries Phil Spector and Jack Nitzsche, two figures influenced by Hazlewood’s early productions with Lester Sill; alternately, you could lean on the ‘goth punks,’ as liner writer Barry Alfonso calls them, who made Hazlewood relevant again in the 1980s. There’s a great, possibly apocryphal story in these liner notes regarding Nick Cave approaching Hazlewood to produce a Bad Seeds album, only to be told he demanded $1,000,000. Or maybe he said he’d make them sound a million dollars, who knows. It’d be an uphill struggle for anyone.

Hazlewood, the man best known for carefully constructing a world of alchemy and myth for Nancy Sinatra to sing, is easy to reduce to caricature: he’s the Oklahoma boy with the deep voice and droll humour. My first inclination was to argue for Hazlewood’s place beyond the cartoon, how the observational, conversational air of his songs admits to sympathy for human nature that surprisingly is overlooked in many accounts of his songwriting. With Hazlewood, you have to deal with the entirety, the way caricature makes it easy for him to slip revelation past you unannounced, almost unnoticed: that’s to say nothing of the great profundity in laughter, and the pathos in his humor.

There are great versions here of songs better known from his Nancy & Lee album with Sinatra: “Sand” is particularly classy, with Sinatra’s place taken by Miss Suzi Jane Hokum, the sexual frisson of the original left intact. And if you want laughs, look no further than Very Special World’s “My Baby Cried All Night Long,” where Hazlewood sing-narrates, “Last night I cried all night long… This is the sad part.” It loses something ‘on paper,’ but trust me: the delivery is so spot-on I doubled over with laughter.

Still, the most significant moments here are when Hazlewood lets his guard down and drowns his maudlin self in tears. Broaching the passing of time in “My Autum’s Done Come,” Hazlewood turns in both one of his most poignant lyrics and most measured vocal deliveries, with an autumnal grace in his lowing tenor. It could be his best song, and certainly one of his most overlooked. “The Nights” tracks the relationship between a white woman living in an Indian tribe and her partner; the arrangement is emptied out and haunted. I’ve got a bit of a problem with Thom Jurek, in his liners, calling “The Nights” ‘out-to-lunch weird’ (particularly as Jurek is usually spot-on), though it’s certainly one of the less typical ventures for Hazlewood on these three albums.

These records document some of Hazlewood’s sweetest, funniest and most moving productions of the mid-’60s. Recorded parallel to his biggest hits, such as Sinatra’s “These Boots…,” they reveal an artist playing on the sidelines with songs that feel written to please the author more than to aim at the charts (not that the idiosyncratic arrangement and production would really have allowed the latter, anyway). While far from inaccessible, these songs broker no favor. They’re great documents of one man thinking through some pretty smart ideas with a winning grin, and recondite expression, stretched across his face.

By Jon Dale

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