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21 April 2017

Lee Hazlewood - 'Cowboy in Sweden' (LHI)

Oh, the temptation of flight - that somewhere else, another place, can be the answer to our problems. Europe loomed large during the Vietnam era, just as it appealed to me during the Bush administration. Scandinavia was where people were beautiful and sexually liberated and they really 'got' free jazz, and it could be everything that reactionary America was not. I guess Lee Hazlewood was drawn to Sweden for these reasons, and what makes Cowboy in Sweden so remarkable is that it's an album about trying to redefine one's identity in another land. I hope things worked out better for him - I've ended up in a Europe that is quite literally tearing itself apart, but it's not like the US looks any better right now. But anyway, the record : dry, cold and somewhat distant are qualities that I associate with Lee Hazlewood, and I supposed they're also a nice fit for the image many have of Sweden. Thus, this pairing doesn't seem so strange; Cowboy in Macedonia or Cowboy in Papua New Guinea would probably be more confusing. This is the soundtrack to a TV flick I haven't seen, so I have to guess the plot based on the songs. Clearly, our cowboy protagonist starts things off in jail, with a song ('Pray the Bars Away') fitting into the anti-classic country sound, though maybe he means psychological imprisonment. And then he seems to meet a girl, forgets his old one, and heads towards Stockholm to avoid the draft. Um, I guess. Hazlewood is interesting because he never really dug into a niche sound, staying connected at least minimally to the pop side of country, despite not really singing well or being that relatable. Most of Cowboy in Sweden is built around his baritone drawl, but when he bothers to emote a bit, it's mesmerising: 'No Train to Stockholm' and 'Cold Hard Times' are beautiful in their stark minimalism. On 'No Train' he somehow sounds like both Lou Reed and Leonard Cohen at the same time while actually singing; it's explicitly about avoiding the draft and absolutely fucking great. The classic Hazlewood formula is Lee + girl, and here it's mostly Nina Lizell, with Suzi Jane Hokum doing the valley ladies sound one on track ('For A Day Like Today'). Lizell and he duet on closer 'Vem Kan Segla', which has her singing Swedish lyrics and his replies/translations, that staggered his/her song style that he's made so familiar (kinda like his version of 'Dark Side of the Street', but a bit more mystical). Absolutely great.

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