Review: The weird and wonderful Lee Hazlewood

What to do with Lee Hazlewood? Too obscure for the Rolling Stone/Grammy canon, too cheesy for most hipsters, too square for hip-hop producers to sample and just freaky enough to startle the conformists, the late singer, producer and label head only dented America's musical imagination a few times during his 40-plus-year career. Most notably, this occurred when he teamed with his most famous collaborator, Nancy Sinatra, to write and produce "These Boots Were Made for Walkin'."

Fewer realize that behind that just-weird-enough hit — its trippy bassline, Sinatra's seductive growl and Hazlewood's baritone-bass vocals — was a would-be label kingpin. In the period following the "Boots" breakthrough, Hazlewood, who first made his mark co-writing and producing guitarist Link Wray's incendiary instrumental, "Rumble," secured financing and distribution through ABC Records to create Lee Hazlewood Industries.

Lee Hazlewood: A review of the album "There's a Dream I've Been Saving 1966-1971: Lee Hazlewood Industries" in the Dec. 17 Calendar section said that Hazlewood co-wrote and produced guitarist Link Wray's instrumental "Rumble." He didn't. It was Duane Eddy's instrumental "Rebel-'Rouser" that he co-wrote.

Those five years are collected in "There's a Dream I've Been Saving 1966-1971: Lee Hazlewood Industries," a vast trove of hidden songs, many recorded in Los Angeles, from Hazlewood, his post-Sinatra collaborators Ann-Margret and Suzi Jane Hokom and a host of obscure pop rock bands, country artists and singer-songwriters.

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As spread over four CDs and a DVD, "There's a Dream" is a lot to consume, especially if you're not into Hazlewood's in-your-face approach. One of the least subtle producers of the '60s, the artist reveled in grand gestures and momentous hooks.

In fascinating liner notes, Hokom (who produced artists, designed album covers and recorded solo music for LHI) describes Hazlewood. "He drove a huge green Lincoln Continental convertible with a mobile phone the size of a suitcase and we'd cruise around with my big black Afghan dog Kija in the back seat," she recalled. (For much of this time, the two were a couple.)

Hazlewood's outward joy was tempered, though, by a sad-sack demeanor in song. He cries "loser's tears" in "Forget Marie," elsewhere offers that "dreams have never been my friends" and passively dismisses a "stoned lost child" who leaves him for another. He goes "looking for a dog named kindness — which you'll never find." Bummer.

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Lighter — and at times cheesier — is the work Hazlewood produced by a roster of unestablished groups. The five guys in the Kitchen Cinq never stood a chance on the charts but, revisited four decades on, shine with renewed sparkle. Honey Ltd. were four women from Detroit who showed up at the LHI offices with dreams of fame. Hazlewood signed and teamed them with members of the L.A. session musicians known as the Wrecking Crew for a few hits that never were.

Best, though, are some of Hazlewood's sides with Ann-Margret, recorded in Nashville. The two had a natural chemistry best showcased on their concept album "The Cowboy and the Lady" and the revelatory single "You Turned My Head Around." A song that explodes courtesy Hazlewood's thrilling ear for sound, the cut should have been a hit.

In another, more cockeyed, universe, it is.


Various artists: "There's a Dream I've Been Saving 1966-1971: Lee Hazlewood Industries"

(Light in the Attic Records)

3 stars 


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