Two psychedelic cowboy/troubadour classics almost a decade apart. I also highly recommend 1970’s COWBOY IN SWEDEN, which I upped a little while ago. -Ian!
Trouble Is a Lonesome Town was Lee Hazlewood’s first proper solo album, following his prosperous late-’50s partnership with Duane Eddy and prior to his mentoring and making of ’60s boot-walker Nancy Sinatra. Hazlewood considered it a “writer’s album” from which other artists could cull songs, but Trouble is a perfectly legitimate effort in its own right and characteristically wonderful Hazlewood. The songs are succinct, country-drenched cowboy ballads given a certain undeniable authority by Hazlewood’s warm, bottomless baritone, which booms out of the music like a voice amplified from the heavens. The album runs through jail songs (“Six Feet of Chain”), railroad songs (“The Railroad”), traveling songs (“Long Black Train”), and cold-hearted love songs (“Look at That Woman”) peppered with outlaws, itinerants, dead-end women, card players, and beat-down heroes, too. Between the songs, Hazlewood shows his storyteller’s gift by offering up bits of narration, and the album itself is a storyteller’s record. Trouble is like a cross between a novel full of idiosyncratic character studies (à la Faulkner) and a John Wayne Western, with Hazlewood — looking a lot like a dharma bum on the album cover, sitting on the railroad tracks with his guitar and a dangling cigarette — spinning out intricate yarns about all manner of interesting souls with names like Orville Dobkins and Emory Zickfoose Brown, all residents of the hard-scrabbled fictitious town Trouble (“nothing with a railroad running through it”), which is loosely based on his birthplace. The music is as somber and loping as such subject matter demands, mostly consisting of strummed acoustic guitars and woeful harmonica wails that weep the blues. But it is in the purposefully humorous, sympathetic, and colorful storytelling that the distinct, dead-on Americana heart of Trouble lays.
Requiem for an Almost Lady is the rarest of Lee Hazlewood’s albums because it was released in 1971 exclusively in Sweden (where Hazlewood also completed his cult classic Cowboy in Sweden album) and the United Kingdom. The album is one of the most beautifully agonizing breakup records to ever hit wax, culled from a composite of Hazlewood’s relationships gone wrong. Spoken word introductions precede each of the ten brief songs and reveal Hazlewood’s poetic soul, while the songs themselves are full of longing and witty, clever cynicism coupled with a sad-eyed idealism that paints the music as even more visceral and grievous. Hazlewood spares none of his past loves. Requiem is often cutting, even harsh, as is evident with songs such as “I’d Rather Be Your Enemy” and “I’m Glad I Never…” (as in never owned a gun), but there is an underlying feeling of tenderness, as if Hazlewood is only talking tough to hide his own deep hurt. The album creates an impossibly cavernous warmth, with only acoustic guitar and electric bass backing provided by Jerry Cole, Donnie Owens, and Joe Cannon. Although there are hints of Hazlewood’s cowboy sound on “L.A. Lady” and “Must Have Been Something I Loved,” Requiem actually steers much closer to folky psychedelic pop territory, particularly the sound of California at the end of the ’60s. The subject matter is sophisticated and somatic, but the tone of the music veers much more toward the mystical, existential, and hippie-ish. Hazlewood is meditative without seeming overly fragile. His perspective is world-weary, but it doesn’t stop him from tossing in a campy sense of humor to leaven his obvious passionate disappointment, and it makes the album that much more lyrical, intelligent, and emotionally poignant.
-Stanton Swihart, allmusic.com