Lee Hazlewood enjoyed tremendous success as a songwriter and performer in the ’60s, but by the time the ’70s rolled around, he’d had enough. After penning hits for, and dueting with, Nancy Sinatra and others, Hazlewood hit the road for Europe, tired of fame and worried about his son getting drafted to serve in Vietnam. He stopped frequently in Sweden where he made friends, records, and Swedish television specials like Cowboy In Sweden. As its title suggests, it followed the Oklahoma-born singer-songwriter—and his horse—across “the land of the midnight sun.” Hazlewood found a sympathetic collaborator in the special’s director, Swedish filmmaker Torbjörn Axelman, and the two reunited for more film projects, from the self-explanatory Nancy & Lee In Las Vegas to the obscure, like the virtually impossible-to-see A House Safe For Tigers, in which Hazlewood and Axelman wander the island of Gotland, reflecting on life and encountering surreal imagery.
Reissues of Hazlewood’s albums in the late ’90s, both those he made in the U.S. and those recorded after his departure, won him a new audience while creating an even greater demand for the albums that hadn’t yet appeared. Hazlewood’s soundtrack to A House Safe For Tigers has long been one of the hardest to find, but anyone who could track it down discovered it had a lot more than scarcity going for it. Now reissued as part of an ongoing series of Hazlewood releases by Light In The Attic, it’s one of the strongest efforts in Hazlewood’s catalog, capturing his toughness, sentimentality, and oddball pop songcraft.
It also captures the way Hazlewood the performer understood how to interpret Hazlewood the songwriter. “The Nights,” a tale of the white man’s injustice to Native Americans, needs Hazlewood’s gravelly, speak-sung delivery to put its message across, but in his hands it packs a melodramatic wallop. “Our Little Boy Blue,” a song about toys waiting for an owner who will never return, skirts kitsch but never crosses over, letting a swelling martial beat provide the unspoken explanation for the child’s absence. It’s an understated song of frustration from a man in retreat from the times. (As described in the reissue’s extensive liner notes, the film features a shot of Hazlewood’s “to do” list which includes the item “Don’t Call Nixon a sonofabitch or son-of-a-bitch.”) The album is otherwise dominated by songs about the pleasures of retreat, friendship, and idyllic isolation. “Souls Island” joins reflections on the nature of existence to a simple guitar line and tasteful orchestration, and on the title track Hazlewood summons up a blessing: “May your house be safe from tigers / May you always be my friend.” It’s the sound of someone who’d come to understand the value, and preciousness, of finding a little peace and quiet with someone he could trust while the rest of the world continued to tear itself apart.