By Ken Burke
Boasting miniaturized reproductions of the original album covers and sleeves, Lee Hazlewood’s three solo albums for Reprise are lovingly compiled on this two-disc, 55-song collection. Augmented with booklet notes by Lenny Kaye, the limited-edition package creates a compelling soundscape for the late producer-songwriter’s evolution as an artist in his own right.
Heard today, 1964’s The N.S.V.I.P.’s sounds like Roger Miller’s lost concept album. Showcasing bluesy acoustic fills and narrative intros to each song, it ripples with wry observations (“I Had a Friend”), ironic wordplay (“Everybody Calls Me Something”) and more than a little folk protest (“Have You Made Any New Bombs Today”). Diffusing his antiauthoritarian streak with humor (“Save Your Vote for Clarence Mudd”), he crafted an album that is both pointed and entertaining.
On 1965’s Friday’s Child, Hazelwood’s sonic character becomes more expressive and complex. His country hook songs retain their sensationalistic edge (“Hutchinson Jail”) and folk-hippie humor (“Me and Charlie”) remains intact. However, once he cast himself as a born loser (“Four Kinds of Lonely”) and fatalistic drifter (“Houston,” later a Dean Martin hit), he created the most resonant persona.
Love and Other Crimes, from 1968, eschews political and humorous inclinations in favor of socially conscious blues (“Rosacoke Street”), enigmatic romantic metaphors (“The House Song”), curious love songs (“She Comes Running”) and romantic violence (“Pour Man”). Recorded in Paris, Hazlewood’s baritone was never more expressive, but the album occasionally sinks with tedious songs and cocktail piano.
Material produced with Sanford Clark (“Just Bluesin’”); Dino, Desi and Billy (“Not The Lovin Kind”); child star Donna Butterworth (“California Sunshine Boy”); and Duane Eddy (“This Town”) spotlights the budding studio brilliance that resulted in a string of Nancy Sinatra hits. In the process, this keenly remastered, occasionally compelling collection whets the appetite for future reissues of Hazlewood’s work.