Lee Hazlewood – Strung Out On Something New: The Reprise Recordings

Lee Hazlewood
Strung Out On Something New: The Reprise Recordings

This first-of-hopefully-many posthumous reissue packages from Lee Hazlewood’s painfully rare back catalogue, mops up his three ‘60s solo albums made with the major label dime of Reprise Records, along with a couple of lost contemporary singles and a smattering of ‘in-house’ production/songwriting jobs for less-imperious labelmates from the same era.

With its bewildering 55 tracks, this hefty two-disc compendium is certainly no easy-fix for Hazlewood Heads; it’s more like a slow-releasing overdose that has to be sampled selectively in its key sections to be made sense of. Thus, discerning listeners should first program in and digest the threesome of full-length records buried within; namely 1964’s The N.S.V.I.P.’s (Not So Very Important People), 1965’s Friday’s Child and 1968’s Love And Other Crimes.

Without any shadow of doubt, The N.S.V.I.P.’s is the true gleaming gem of the trio. Acting as a direct sequel to Hazlewood’s solo debut – 1963’s Trouble Is A Lonesome Town – the sophomore N.S.V.I.P.’s, is a stripped-down voice-and-guitar affair. With its bleak, pretty and funny acoustic songs preceded by hilarious and profound spoken-word fictional tales of small-town losers, crooks, eccentrics and romantics, the long-player intriguingly joins the dots between Johnny Cash, early-Bob Dylan, Loudon Wainwright III, The Silver Jews and (perversely) My Name Is Earl. Beneath the witty yarn-spinning, hides some compelling and cutting social/political commentary; in the religious-intolerance parable of “I Had A Friend”, amidst the arms-race horrors of “Have You Made Any New Bombs Today?”, inside the political disillusionment of “Save Your Vote For Clarence Mudd” and throughout the poverty-stricken survivalism of “I Might Break Even”. In short, The N.S.V.I.P.’s is another truly great Lee Hazlewood LP that you should have been able to buy over the last four decades.

Unleashed just before hitting melodic-gold with Nancy Sinatra and “These Boots Are Made For Walkin’”, 1965’s Friday’s Child is a less remarkable – though still valuable – entry in the convoluted Hazlewood canon. Introducing the lush orchestral pop arrangements that would define his best-known mid-‘60s material, Friday’s Child is a covers-heavy mid-paced crooner affair, that’s ultimately flawed but still endearing. Highlights include the grandiose title-track, the darkly-comic “Four Kinds Of Lonely”, the bluesy self-deprecation of “A Real Live Fool” and the faintly-silly strum-along of “That Old Freight Train”. After the money-spinning success of 1968’s seminal Nancy & Lee duets album, Hazlewood recorded his third Reprise LP in the same year, with the aide of crack session musicians. The resulting Love And Other Crimes is far more demonstrative, ambitious and rewarding than Friday’s Child. It contains four outstanding Hazlewood career perennials in the shape of the sweeping “She Comes Running” (later re-cut for 1972’s 13), the chugging murder ballad “Pour Man’”, the tear-jerking “Forget Marie” (subsequently reprised on 1970’s classic in-exile, Cowboy In Sweden) and the barfly-rambling “Rosacoke Street” (also revisited on 13). The covers are equally as strong; notably the epic Tindersticks-inventing interpretation of “Morning Dew”, the haunting makeover of “The House Song” and the cocktail-jazzing of “She’s Funny That Way”.

Beyond the three-album-strong resurrecting, Strung Out On Something New is more of a mixed-bag. Four sides from two solo seven inch singles certainly add to the honourable archive-excavation efforts though, with a spooky stab at Bobbie Gentry’s “Ode To Billie Joe” and the serene self-penned almost-psychedelic “I Am, You Are” supplying the most stirring listening. The remainder of the compilation is given over to examples of Hazlewood’s ‘behind-the-scenes’ work with the revered Duane Eddy and Jack Nitzsche, as well as long-forgotten passing pop-curiosity combos like The Whisk Kids, The Ill Winds and shameless Shangri-Las clones The Wildcats. Whilst these supplementary extra-curricular tracks do illustrate the historical importance of Hazlewood’s Phil Spector-style studio-manipulating ‘day-job’, they don’t capture the true magic of his self-sung wares and perhaps they really should have been siphoned-off into a separate compilation for the sake of tidiness. That said, Eddy’s dirty instrumental re-moulding of “These Boots Are Made For Walkin’” (as “This Guitar Was Made For Twangin’”) and Nitzsche’s Morricone-flavoured “Zapata” are certainly entertaining and alluring.

Taken as a whole, Strung Out On Something New both disentangles and adds to the mysteries of Lee Hazlewood’s ridiculously-elusive and genius-touched repertoire. So it almost goes without saying that this mini-boxset is a mandatory purchase for the seriously-dedicated and frequently-frustrated fanbase of the late great man. Hopefully though, the limited run of just 5,000 copies (with a rather steep price tag) won’t prevent a less exclusive, though maybe alumnus-free, edition of Strung Out On Something New appearing at a later date, for the benefit of a wider still-to-be-persuaded following.