Lee Hazlewood

13
(Smells Like Records)

How can you dislike a guy whose past albums have self-deprecating titles like Poet, Fool or Bumand Lee Hazlewoodism: The Cause and Its Cure? And how can you pass up an album dedicated to "pimps, whores, pushers, dopers, gangsters and the bottom of the human chain shit-heels"? You can't, and you shouldn't. But even so, Lee Hazlewood's low dungeon voice and bizarre, cryptic lyrics about being stoned or answering to the name "Sand" are a taste that many can be forgiven for never acquiring. The easiest point of entry in the wonderful world of Hazlewood would probably be Lee & Nancy, the album of duets he made with the Chairman of the Board's daughter (Nancy Sinatra) after catapulting her to stardom with "These Boots Are Made for Walking." Or the recently rereleased mood-music classic Requiem for an Almost Lady. Or any of the other 11 solo albums he made leading up to 13, which saw very limited original release in this country in 1972. But to starthere would be like buying The Soft Parade because you kinda like the Doors. In fact, 13 could almost pass for that horn-infested nightmare, except Jimbo would have to kill himself again to write poetry as good as "One week in San Francisco/Existing on Nabisco cookies and bad dreams/Sad scenes and dodging paranoia..."

It's not like Hazlewood's lost his edge after uprooting and moving to Sweden prior to the making of this record -- the writing is fine. Lee doles out three Chickenshit for the Soul parables in under two minutes on "Hej, Me I'm Riding," including leaving a pregnant girl high and dry and stealing a hobo's shoes and letting him freeze to death just because they can't keep up with his ol' ramblin' ways.

My favorite sick pleasure here is the George Burns-on-happy-gas exuberance of "Tulsa Sunday," where Lee proclaims "God's looking good, Priscilla, and so am I." That's part of Hazlewood's genius, the way he keeps injecting the name Priscilla into a song about the man upstairs and his relationship with this world. "God's getting it together in the sky, Priscilla," he bellows, and the only divine mystery you want solved is finding out who the hell Priscilla is. It could be Lee's black Labrador, for all we know.

It's only when someone with a good heart hides the horn charts that this album gets down to business. You gotta wonder what kind of sick perversion makes Lee write nine songs about boozers and losers, then turns the arranging duties over to a guy who he claims scored Saturday-morning cartoons. As far as I can tell, that's not true; producer Larry Marks did helm the Flying Burrito Brothers' seminal Gilded Palace of Sinand conducted on Randy Newman's Sail Away album, but you'd never know it since nearly everything here sounds like Bobby Sherman's "Hey Little Woman" -- that is, if C.W. McCall were singing it. Steve Shelley of Sonic Youth wanted to reissue these rare-Lee heard works on his Smells Like Records label because he was tired of having to pay upward of 100 bucks to hear vintage Hazlewood. With 13, you get the feeling that maybe he rereleased it just so he could make his 100 bucks back.

 
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