“In the beginning there was nothing
but it was kind of fun watching nothing grow”
Those lines open the magnificent Lee Hazelwood album “Requiem For an Almost Lady” of 1971. Those lines also open the album that we’re about to discuss – Total Lee.
Just like the original opening, with Hazelwood’s own deep and slightly singed voice, these lines are served on a deep-throat platter, only this time the voice is of Lambchop‘s Kurt Wagner, which gives the album’s beginning a different mood.
Hazlewood was an American musician who in the seventies moved to Sweden and wrote a lot of well-orchestrated, graceful, Sixties-Pop hits. He also collaborated with Nancy Sinatra and wrote monumental songs that will forever stay in the musical pantheon.
Good songs stick, that’s just the way it is. It doesn’t matter what kind of production you set up for them, nothing beats a good tune. As much as I love noises and pads and bleeps, nothing replaces a good tune. A refined musical idea, with words to surround it, a break for a little C-part, stylish strings and a sincere execution – these things can make time stop in its place. And yes, I do mean songs like “The Universal“.
Hazlewood was a unique individual, a ladies’ man, charming and romantic. A heartthrob and a heart-breaker. I can easily picture him waking up, time after time, after a wild night with some beauty, the likes of those sixties French pop-singers, and claim he “has to go home, because it’s late”, and “in anyway, it wasn’t meant to be” etc., and then leaves the beauty with another goodbye song, themed ‘don’t get hurt, it’s only me, there will be others”…
But Lee Hazlewood wasn’t afraid to give the masses his heart. To let every single person get a little slice of that broken, shattered heart and keep it for their selves, to digest for a couple of days till life take its normal route again.
When the label City Slang decided to produce a tribute album to Lee Hazlewood, I’m sure they had their work cut out for them choosing the artists. Not many singers or band can carry a Hazlewood song, pour into the vocals the meaning, and into the arrangement the elements to bridge the original and their own musical-aesthetics and generate an end-product that gives a new interpretation, though not revolutional, of the original song. Making someone else’s song sound as though you wrote it is a tough job. Very few have succeeded.
All in all, the performances in this album are good. They are not all in the same level, but except 2 to 3 tracks that this collection wouldn’t have probably missed; there are plenty of beautiful moments to point out.
After Wagner‘s minute and a half opening, Madrugada and Niel McNasty make the chilling “Come Home To Me” even more chilling. The end result could have probably found its place in a soundtrack for a movie about a deserted land, or maybe play in the background while reading McCarthy’s “The Road” cover to cover. The Webb Brothers had their hands full with trying to make what is probably Hazlewood’s most famous song, “Some Velvet Morning”, into their own. They did it well, by not stretching the song thin, but taking it into an aesthetic and sound direction that is very much their own. Calexico also do a good job with “Sundown, Sondown“. Also, Evan Dando (talk about someone who can make another’s song his own) and Sabrina Brooke‘s version of “Summer Wine” is a wonderful piece, with touches of psychedelia, and James-Bond like feel. The most interesting interpretation in this album is of Kid Loco, that gave “If It’s Monday Morning” an incredibly cool groove, that is probably worth buying the CD for alone.
Tribute albums are risky business, there is so much potential to mess up. In Total Lee, they could have done away with 2 to 3 tracks, which would have made this tribute an exquisite one. You don’t really need 16 tracks in an hour long CD. But an album that came out in 2002, before Facebook and Twitter, probably requires a bit more patience from its listeners. The fact that we’re in a twisted time where an hour long listening experience Is impossible, is probably our problem.
But nonetheless, the Lee Hazlewood tribute album has some very beautiful moments, and even though I didn’t mention them before, Tindersticks, Jarvis Cocker, St. Etienne, Richard Hawley, Calvin Johnson and others also take part in it.
One other thing – you should really buy the CD in its physical form, for the very nice booklet with interviews and photos of Hazlewood, which correlates with the album’s tracks.
Come On Home To Me
Some Velvet Morning
Buy it : Amazon