The best tribute album I have heard in a very long time (better than Making God Smile, even) is dedicated to …. Lee Hazlewood. Lee whom, you may well ask?
Producer, songwriter, artist, label owner, Hazlewood was an original Cosmic Cowboy, best known for his work with Duane Eddy and Nancy Sinatra (and Nancy and Frank’s classic “Something Stupid”). Later Hazlewood became legendary as a performer in his own right: a basso profundo voice riding on ornate chamber-pop arrangements with a lingering hint of his adoptive desert Southwest. Hazlewood is still totally hip, evidenced by his song-by-song reactions to these covers, as recorded in the liner notes.
I can honestly say I like every song recorded here, with the highlights including Madrugada’s “Come On Home to Me”: a portentious, dramatic vamp with a vocal from Neil McNasty at the intersection of Frank Sinatra and John Cale rising and falling in the mix, the title line a lonely incantation, a summoning spell ever unheeded.
The iconic and mysterious duet “Some Velvet Morning” (originally Nancy and Lee) is made even more so by the Webb Brothers radical editing between male and female, past and present, innuendo and exposition. Amazing – what exactly IS a velvet morning?
Calexico does a dramatically beautiful “Sundown, Sundown,” inserting Spanish guitar and mariachi trumpet, making the implied pageantry and drama of the original explicit. Valerie Leulliot’s guest vocals find Nancy’s dichotomy of passion and distance and the lavish but clean production ties together a fugue of separate but equal parts in the symphonic finale.
Also great are “The Cheat,” the painful yet liberating admission of cuckoldry, Erlend Oye’s intersection of Nick Drake and James Taylor on a train NOT going to Stockholm, the haunting melody of “Soul’s Island,” and a “Summer Wine” so good it’s enough to resurrect Evan Dando’s career.
Indulge in the quirky, delicate, craftsmanship of a remarkable career remade up-to-the-minute yet timeless.