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Lee Hazlewood | These Boots Are Made For Walking: The Complete MGM Recordings (Ace)
Like Marmite, marmalade and root beer people tend either to love this existential cowboy's music or have an uncomfortable reaction to its slightly cheesy and rather unique blend of country, western, pop and easy listening. Not unlike a lot of people I discarded and berated him as someone who once spoiled otherwise nice and sexy Nancy Sinatra records with his (some say) tuneless voice so deep it makes Johnny Cash sound like a castrato. And like a lot of people I thought I should take another look when Lee's star began to rise again five or six years ago. Well you still don't hear him on any effing radio station that I know but his star is still waxing. The vast Festival Hall sells out fast; every flavour of the month indie band vies to get on the latest LH covers album and the hip may worry if they don't 'get it'. Lee has made around thirty albums and herein you get three pretty good ones even if some classic songs (Sand and Summer Wine notably) were covered a little later by or with Nancy with much stronger arrangements. There's also half a dozen or so rarities and unreleased tracks of varying merit (though interesting for sure- Lee's own orchestral Batman theme is a class bash). Several rather great songs that Lee performed recently at the RFH and that most of us didn't know on account of them being unavailable for thirty years are to be found here. One such little treasure is My Autumn's Done Come. The lushest string arrangement, worthy of John Barry, caresses a beautiful tune devoid of sickly sentiment and dignifies an autobiographical lyric. At age 34 Lee is ready to let go. The rat race of life and the personas we develop to handle it are now all too tiresome for our Lee: "Let those I don't care days begin / I'm tired of holding my stomach in." Lee will abandon the intense chase to win over the choicest honeys to happily settle for lesser catches. Just leave him in a good strong hammock with water short and scotch tall. Booze is frequently his preferred companion. The song After Six is about how he will barter anything for another drink after the first six glasses. A few drinks and a few choice lines of wit if not wisdom seem to sort out the shit of the day. To these ears and a good number of others (Lee calls us addicts) those lyrics do the business. On Dark In My Heart Lee lists several woes of his (self-centred?) life concisely. Try these: "Got a letter from my mother but she didn't send no cash, send no cash, not a dime / Got a letter from my sister and she's still talking trash, talking trash, top forty trash / Oh its dark, yeah it's dark in my heart. / Met a girl in New York and she had a lotta class, lotta class, tourist class / Took a girl to LA and she said it wouldn't last, wouldn't last, and it didn't / Oh its dark, yeah it's dark, in my heart." This cracking good song features the deftest guitar picking and hurtles you along like a runaway train ride you hope won't stop. Like Camus, Lee will accept the absurdity of life rather than attempt to transcend it. Johnny Cash's biblical invocations will not feature here and nor will Dylan's caution to heed a changing world. In Our Time is a great song concerning 1960s changing social values and the ascendancy of youth where he offers no judgements only lines of fun, just safely this side of cheesy, and which LH fans delight in quoting (even if we do prefer the psychedelic version recorded by Nancy a few months later.) "Girls were once suffragettes / Now they're out taking bets / Smoking filter cigarettes / In our time baby in our time / Holding hands in the Louvre / Used to be such a groove / Now some take trips and never move / In our time baby, in our time / Housewives dig rock and roll / If you're wrong you got soul / If you're twenty then you're old / In our time baby, in our time."
The overall double CD package costs around twelve quid, has the coolest '60s cover art and a great not-so-little booklet. It's not perfect. A few songs must have felt cheesy in 1966 let alone now. Jose still feels like a camp Mark Almond singing Scott Walker on a song too corny by half. Other numbers I once felt were cheesy now feel like comfortable armchairs, like good songs along side great ones. Go dig this album, then, once you are an addict, hassle the fairly hip kids at Ace to release lots more Lee and lovely Nancy.