Lee Hazlewood

The Very Special World of Lee Hazlewood

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After producing and writing a string of hits for Duane Eddy, Dino, Desi & Billy, and Nancy Sinatra, Lee Hazlewood had gained enough of a reputation in the music biz that some believed he was poised to break through as a solo artist. With this in mind, MGM Records signed Hazlewood to a big-money record deal, despite the fact that his previous solo efforts for Mercury and Reprise failed to make any significant impression on the charts. 1966's The Very Special World of Lee Hazlewood was not destined to change his luck as a hitmaker, though the album gave him a chance to indulge some of his more idiosyncratic production and songwriting conceits. Hazlewood once said he regarded his MGM albums as "good, expensive demos" that would help generate covers from high-profile artists, and that certainly seems to be the case with The Very Special World; Hazlewood still seems to be getting used to the idea of singing lead on these sessions, and his craggy instrument, with phrasing that lurks somewhere between singing and storytelling, works fine in context, but never sounds much like anything that would have made its way onto AM radio in the mid-'60s. His performances of two of his tunes that had been hits for others are illustrative: "Not the Lovin' Kind" is turned into a cool lounge-jazz number here, a long way from the naive folk-rock of Dino, Desi & Billy's hit recording, and "These Boots Are Made for Walkin'" has a less punchy and more grandiose arrangement, while Hazlewood's vocal is full of asides about Nancy Sinatra's epochal version, almost as if it was his hit and not hers. That said, most of Hazlewood's tales are literate and effective without sounding pretentious, and "Sand," "Bugles in the Afternoon," and "My Autumn's Done Come" reflect the mature if melodramatic side of his vision. The arrangements (by Billy Strange) give the melodies a texture and depth that set them apart from Hazlewood's efforts to craft hit singles for others, and reflect his own carefully crafted persona as a well-read cowboy-turned-hipster-playboy. The Very Special World of Lee Hazlewood is the strongest of his three MGM albums, though it doesn't reflect his offbeat wit as well as his later works.

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