Saturday, October 31, 2009

Obscuro Vol 2: A Melancholy Favor

I admittedly don’t know much about the late Lee Hazlewood. Sure, I’ve read the Wiki bio and I could spout out a few facts, but that’s just regurgitation…it’s nothing I know, as in what is a part of me. What I do know has more to do with the “you-go-grrrl” hit that he wrote and produced for Nancy Sinatra, These Boots are Made for Walkin’ and, more obscurely, their duet Some Velvet Morning as covered by Slowdive. But that limited knowledge base doesn’t mean Brother Lee can’t speak to me, because I assure you he can – and does.

The album in question here is his 1971 effort, Requiem for an Almost Lady…a scathing title and quite befitting the 10 songs/25 minutes, 26 seconds (give or take) of music it represents. If there were a contest for ultimate break up album, this one would definitely be a heavy contender. Essentially, it tells the story of a romance (or perhaps several) after the fact…the good, the bad, the inevitable. Throughout he’s blaming her and himself and just about everything but the kitchen sink, yet not out of bitterness but with a clear, humorous, almost philosophical understanding of “sometimes thems the breaks, partner.” He’s happy for the time he’s spent and glad he was given the opportunity in the first place, no matter how far the fall or how hard he hit in the end.

Musically, Requiem for an Almost Lady is a blend of tumbleweed western and flower child folk – and its one of the sparsest albums I’ve ever heard. Each song is comprised of nothing more than acoustic guitar, bass, vocals (maybe two) and sometimes a lead guitar; but no percussion (the bass amply accommodates that roll as well as providing the occasional counter-melody), no strings, no tickled ivories – essentially, no filler. Two guys could have recorded most of this album with a tape recorder between them, and indeed, it’s both that raw and intimate. Lee sings with a gruff but sympathetic sweetness, never harsh or agitated, though sometimes mildly threatening, he's mainly reminiscing, relaxed, going through the details of a plight that can no longer harm him. And really, for me, the icing on this nostalgic cake is that each song begins with a spoken word summary, his balladeer’s heart coming through his vest, and one of the greatest lines in popular music can be found in the song I’ll Live Yesterdays when he muses, “Seems we’re always doing something to hurt each other. But you know, you never really hurt me until the fourth verse of this song…” Classic.

So if you like to wallow in other folk’s misery -- or have some of your own that needs a soundtrack -- do yourself a melancholy favor and pick up Lee Hazlewood’s Requiem for an Almost Lady.

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