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Lee Hazlewood: Cowboy In Sweden

Album: Cowboy In Sweden

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A sort of cowpoke Phil Spector, though he predates and influenced Spector, producer, songwriter, and recluse Lee Hazlewood discovered Duane Eddy, released Gram Parsons' first album (with the International Submarine Band), made Nancy Sinatra a star, and wrote hits for Waylon Jennings, Petula Clark, Dean Martin, and others. But Hazlewood never saw much success as a solo artist. Of course, from the moment he opens his mouth, it's not hard to tell why: With a voice that makes Tom Waits sound overly studied, Hazlewood could never be anyone's idea of easy listening, and his musical notions often match his vocal style note for note. But the eccentricity that turned off the general public is the same thing that's made Hazlewood the center of an adoring cult that's only grown over the years. Unfortunately, tracking down Hazlewood's albums, some of which were barely released in America, has been nearly impossible, an injustice a new reissue series sets out to correct. Cowboy In Sweden, the soundtrack to a film project of the same name from 1970, was recorded during Hazlewood's post-Hollywood exile in Scandinavia. Combining his country-and-western roots with a lush, orchestral, European-flavored sound, the album should provide a litmus test for those curious about the singer-songwriter. "No Train To Stockholm," "Leather And Lace," and the nearly perverse "Hey Cowboy," which finds Hazlewood seductively dueting with Swedish singer Nina Lizell, don't leave a lot of middle ground, but converts and old fans alike should be left hotly anticipating such forthcoming reissues as Trouble Is A Lonesome Town and The Cowboy And The Lady, a collection of duets with Ann-Margret. Returning after years of silence as a solo artist, Hazlewood has also recorded Farmisht, Flatulence, Origami, ARF!!! And Me... Despite a questionable title and an extremely questionable concept—Hazlewood warbles his way through such standards as "It Had To Be You," "Makin' Whoopee," and "Try A Little Tenderness"—Farmisht holds together surprisingly well. Of course, it helps that backing Hazlewood's abrasive vocals is a tight combo fronted by spry octogenarian jazz guitarist and frequent collaborator Al Casey. In a way, the album nicely encapsulates Hazlewood's career: He takes a great pop tune and twists it, not enough to make it unrecognizable, but just enough to make it strange. It's not for all tastes, but that's never been the point.