Wouldn’t you like to hear stories about Emory Zickafoose Brown, Sleepy Gilreath, Anna May Stillwell, and the Dobkins brothers: George and Orville? You’re in luck. Look no further than the new re-issue of Lee Hazlewood’s Trouble Is a Lonesome Town.
One of Hazlewood’s first outings, this song-cyle features spoken word intros that are often as engaging as the song itself. Content-wise, these songs feature the usual culprits: ugliness, loneliness, trains, women and trouble.
Some are tall tales about the characters of Trouble, others are simple truths like “We All Make the Little Flowers Grow“. There’s a constant sense of humor in all these songs. “Soft and gooey-looking” is how Lee describes the prettiest girl in Trouble, where an argument can be started easily by saying something either for or against the railroad. It’s a kind of midwest humor where things that are horrible and true are comical. “Six Feet of Chain” basically documents all the things that Dobkins brothers can do…while tied up. “Ugly Brown” is literally about someone so visually unpleasant they’re basically a sideshow…….
Some might call this sound hokey. I think that does this music a real disservice. The original record was releases in 1963 and did nothing in terms of commercial sales. It was a strange time for this kind of record to come out, it would have been way to square for the then-up-and-coming counterculture, and the “Americana” market (as we know it) didn’t exist yet. This type of narrative/song cycle sort of thing would have been far too weird for the early 60′s country music market. It probably got made because (as Lee says in the included Autobiography ’45) “people found out I work cheap.”
The sound is more like the songs Shel Silverstein wrote for Johnny Cash (I could actually hear Cash singing some of these tunes). Stylistically, it’s like really good Roger Miller.
Did i mention this is a Light In the Attic re-issue? So of course you get the usual copious liner notes, as well as 15 extra track to flush out the original album (the vinyl actually came with a copy of the screenplay for the album?!!). Included is one of Lee’s greatest early tracks: “The Girl On Death Row”. This songs starts like a James Bond theme and then morphs into a string-laden paen to a dying female inmate. The extra tracks also contain Lee’s first singles released under the pseudonym Mark Robinson?. One of the highlights of these early cuts is the deadpan anthem of self-depreciation : “I’ve Made Enough Mistakes Today” (with Jack Nitzsche doing the string arrangements).
If you are a Hazlewood fan, this is a must-buy. (Newbies should probably start here.) You can hear all the elements in place for the later masterpieces, as well as appreciate a minor anomaly in American music.