Tether the horses and line 'em up for Lee Hazlewood, the man who walked pop's crazy...
Rob Webb 2004-05-12
Lee Hazlewood's husky, honeyed drawl has long been revered by many. His voice, as desert-dry as the Arizona sky, as warm as a horse's saddle, is down there in the basement between the wiskery Charlie Rich and a latter-day Leonard Cohen.
As an arranger and producer Hazlewood helped launch the careers of Duane Eddy and Nancy Sinatra, among others. His own albums have become collectors items and in more recent years, artists as diverse as Primal Scream, Jarvis Cocker and Lambchop have name-checked his influence. He refused to conform to the mainstream, producing music that explored new sounds and directions, but always rooted in Americana.
His Sixties recordings with Ms Sinatra are perhaps his best known, but EMI have now reissued two Seventies albums: Poet, Fool or Bum from 1973 and Back on the Street Again, from 1977, both sensibly packaged in a two-for-one and comprising 21 tracks. These were recorded during the years Hazlewood spent living in Stockholm, and the second of the two was originally only released in Sweden and a handful of other European countries, so many listeners will not have heard them before. Hazlewood was a certified Europhile, but they could have just as easily been recorded in LA.
All tracks are recorded with a full orchestra and backing singers. They're big in scale and the singer never lost sight of his wide-screen Western vision. The first, ''Poet, Fool or Bum'', ambling along as though from a cowboy B-movie is touching, full of humour and a great opener. ''Kari'' and ''Wind, Sky, Sea and Sand'' are typical of Hazlewood's off-kilter sense of rhyme and take the ride at a gentler pace. In ''Nancy and Me'' Hazlewood's vocals plummet even further in his plea for a prayer to he and Nancy.
The first half closes with a faithful version of Tom Waits' ''Martha'', retitled here ''Those Were Days of Roses''. The second half is the stonger with the epic, sweeping ''Your Thunder and Your Lightning'' and the extraordinary ''A Rider on a White Horse'' the high points.
Whether he is the godfather of alt.country or simply one of the great unclassifiables of pop, tether the horses and line 'em up for Lee Hazlewood, the man who walked pop's crazy paving and jumped on all the cracks.