Lee Hazlewood lived from July 9, 1929 until August 4, 2007. He is known for his work with guitarist Duane Eddy in the late 1950’s and with singer Nancy Sinatra in the 1960’s. He wrote and produced her #1 US/UK hit ‘These Boots Are Made For Walking’. Lee had a baritone voice and his sound was described as Cowboy Psychedelia or Saccharine Underground. He released his concept album TROUBLE IS A LONESOME TOWN in 1963. A few years back Charles Normal (younger brother of the late Larry Norman) discovered the album in a secondhand junk shop in Oslo, Norway. He couldn’t stop playing it! Fast forward to 2013 and under the moniker Thriftstore Masterpiece Normal and friends released their version of the album on SideOneDummy Records¸albeit more fully orchestrated. Normal produced, arranged, and engineered the album, and played various instruments on it.
Each song begins with a narration by Normal’s mailman Jerry Albertini. At the start of the album, he tells us most of the people living in the small town of Trouble are good and bad most of the time. The narrator says when he was ten he found a friend. The first song ‘Long Black Train’ is an upbeat musical mishmash of styles. Frank Black of Pixies fame delivers the vocals, while Scott Gerweck plays trumpet. Here are some of the words: “Back when I was ten Jim was my best friend/We’d go down to the station and watch the trains come in/Someday I told my friend/We’ll ride that train and then we’ll make a fortune for ourselves and we’ll ride it home again/The long black train (2X)”. Unfortunately Jim gets in trouble for robbing a bank. The narrator then starts to describe a guy in the town of Trouble that people can barely stand to look at as he looks so beat up. ‘Ugly Brown’ has Larry Norman on lead vocals (it’s good to hear him again), Charles Normal on guitar, mandolin, and synth, and Silver Sorenson on upright bass. It has a saloon music feel to it. The lyrics are depressing, almost as if the song could fit on Larry’s SOMETHING NEW UNDER THE SON project: “Nobody loves me in this town, this town (2X)/When they have parties, they never invite me/Even my own dog bites me/They call me, they call me/Ugly Brown/Nobody wants me in this town, this town/I won’t swim in the river and that’s a fact/ Cause every time I come out they keep throwing me back/They call me, they call me Ugly Brown”.
‘Son of a Gun’ has a slow, moody feel to it. The vocals are handled by Frank Black and his eight year old son Julian Clark. The song speaks of how we tend to stereotype people: “It hurts to be told when you’re not very old/That you’re an outlaw’s son/And the older you get/They won’t let you forget/That you’re the son of a gun/A bad, bad gun, you son of a gun/And then you’ll meet someone so sweet/And she says her heart you have won/But her old dad gets awfully mad/She’ll marry no son of a gun/A bad, bad gun/That son, son of a gun”. The narrator then tells us about an undertaker named Sleepy and his assistant Charlie who has a unique drinking problem. ‘We all make the Flowers Grow’ features Kristin Blix’s tender, compelling vocals, and Jason Carter on percussion. Musically, it sounds like you’re in the Caribbean! The lyrics reflect realistically on our mortality: “Cowards and heroes, listen my friends/If you have money or nothing to spend/It’ll make no difference in a hundred years or so/Sooner or later, we all make the little flowers grow”.
‘Run Boy Run’ finds Frank Black on vocals, Kristin Blix harmonizing, and William Slater on piano. It is a fast, catchy, old country number, about a criminal: “You were born by a railroad track/Never knew your ma and your pa ain’t comin’ back/Had to make your way the best you can/But you didn’t have to steal from another man/Run boy, run boy, run boy run/They’re gonna get you boy, run boy run.../Shot a man for nothin’ and away you run/Wanted in most every state from here to Tennessee/If you’re caught you’ll do your running hanging from a tree”. Next, the narrator tells us about George and Orville, two brothers who keep stealing from each other in Trouble. Pete Yorn is on lead vocals. He has toured with Coldplay and collaborated with Scarlett Johansson. Kristin Blix provides harmony vocals. The track ‘Six Feet of Chain’ is a sarcastic song about incarceration: “He can climb up a mountain so high/He can run, he can jump, he can fly/He can have plenty, fortune, and fame/If he can do it on six feet of chain”.
The narrator tells us people argue over whether the railroad was a good thing for Trouble or not. Appropriately, the next song is called ‘The Railroad’. It has a playful pop sound. Isaac Brock (Modest Mouse) is on vocals, while Charles Normal provides glockenspiel and samples. Here are some of the lyrics: “Workin’ on the railroad all day long/Workin’ on the railroad I sing this song/Sing about an old love I once knew/Sing about an old love or maybe two.../I drove a lotta hot steel in my time//I drink a lot of stuff they call moonshine/I got me a lady in every town/Workin’ on the railroad, never settle down”. The narrator informs us that Anna Mae Stilwell is the best looking woman in Trouble. A slow rock song ‘Look at that Woman’ is up next. It finds Courtney Taylor-Taylor of The Dandy Warhols on lead and Fathead on backup vocals. These lyrics remind us that looks can be deceiving: “Face like a child/Body so nice/Eyes like an angel/Heart cold as ice/Look at that woman/She seems so fine/I wish that woman was anybody else but mine/She can’t cook and she can’t love/She ain’t worth a dime/I wish that woman was anybody else but mine”.
‘Peculiar Guy’ is the hardest rocker on the album. Eddie Argos delivers vocals that put me in mind of Mick Jagger. Charles Normal plays a mean electric guitar. The song tells quite a tale: “I worked with my team and I soon grew as rich as the land/The woman called Red learned to love me as I loved the land/My valley turned green, my mountain smiled down from the sky/But a lion lured my mountain and a lion is a peculiar guy/One morning the lion came down from his kingdom I owned/He killed the woman called Red then left me alone/My valley turned brown, my mountain didn’t seem so high/Cause a lion lured my mountain and that lion was a peculiar guy/I climbed up my mountain and buried the woman called Red/I emptied my gun in the back of that lion’s head”. The narrator says you won’t find Trouble on any map, but if you take three steps in any direction, you’ll be there. Larry Norman performs the lead vocals with a country flare on the closing title track. Charles provides strings. Here are some of the words: “Lord, I’d like to leave this town (2X)/But I guess I’ll hang around/Yes, I guess I’ll hang around/Trouble is a lonesome town (2X)/Trouble is where I was born/Trouble is where I am from.../Trouble is where I belong (2X)/Oh Lord, trouble”.
What a delightful album of cohesive, imaginative stories this is! It is great to meet all these interesting characters from Trouble. Fans of Johnny Cash’s storytelling should give this one a listen. Musically, it is a diverse, creative success! It is never boring. Charles Normal is very talented and I look forward to whatever his next project may be. I’m rating TROUBLE IS A LONESOME TOWN 90%. For more info visit: www.thriftstoremasterpiece.com and www.larrynorman.com.
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