Lee Hazlewood isn't a name people utter too much anymore. He began working in the music industry as a DJ in Arizona after discharged from the Army after serving in the Korean War. He worked mainly as a songwriter, scoring a number of hits in the '50s and the '60s--his biggest hit is "These Boots Are Made for Walking" as made famous by Nancy Sinatra--but he also worked as a solo artist on the side. In 1963, he recorded what was to become his solo debut, 'Trouble is a Lonesome Town', which is one of the first-ever concept albums (pre-dating the Mothers of Invention's 'Freak Out!' by about 3 years) about a sleepy little town by the name of Trouble.
Mercury Records released the album, but what they released wasn't a polished record but instead the demos Lee had recorded. Though ambitious, the album flopped commercially and, over time, fell away from the lexicon of American music. That is until Charles Normal found a copy at a yard sale while living in Europe. He listened to it over and over and over again, and it created a longing for that old-time America that Lee sang about, each song steeped heavily in '60s-era Americana. And thus Thriftstore Masterpiece was created.
Where the Lee Hazlewood release was a rough outline of a story untold, Thriftstore Masterpiece's version is fully fleshed-out in all of its alt. country glory. A revolving door of guest vocalists help to give the album a more complex narrative as each song is about a different member/family in Trouble. Frank Black shoulders the brunt of the songs, appearing on "Long Black Train," "Son of a Gun," and "Run Boy Run." Charles Normal/Thriftstore Masterpiece's brother Larry Norman appears on two songs: "Ugly Brown" and "Trouble is a Lonesome Town," and the remainder of the songs are sung by the likes of Kristin Blix ("We All Make the Flowers Grow"), "Pete Yorn ("Six Feet of Chain"), Isaac Brock ("The Railroad"), Courtney Taylor-Taylor of the Dandy Warhols ("Look at That Woman"), and Eddie Argos ("Peculiar Guy").
My favorite songs are "Long Black Train," "Run Boy Run," "Six Feet of Chain," "Look at That Woman," and "Peculiar Guy." All-in-all, this album truly is a masterpiece as it takes a 50-year-old forgotten relic and breathes new life into it. What is gained is a look into what Lee's original album may have sounded like, and none of his quirky sense of humor is lost. You see, while each of these songs is about that sleepy little town called Trouble, what you might not realize is that we all live in Trouble, and these songs are universal. Though they may be 50 years old, these songs still hold true today, and that's part of what makes this thrift store find such a masterpiece.