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Only worth buying for the excellent booklet....
on 27 September 2012
Hot on the heels of 'The LHI Years: Singles, Nudes and Backsides' comes this obscure Lee Hazlewood oddity from 1975. Apparently the vinyl LP now sells for hundreds of dollars but I can emphatically confirm that is solely because of its extreme rarity - definitely NOT the quality of the music. And I say that as a dedicated Lee Hazlewood fan. The truth is that Lee's work scaled the heights of brilliance in his heyday ('66-'71) but also occasionally hit the depths of bland mediocrity. This CD is firmly in the latter category.
HSFT was conceived during Lee's extended stay in Scandinavia in the early seventies. Somewhere in here is a TV film which he describes as "a half-Swedish, half-English semi-documentary". It certainly seems very odd and the soundtrack therefore needs to be viewed in that context. Even the title itself is confusing because on the two versions of the title song both Lee (track 2) and the choir (10) are clearly saying "a house safe FROM tigers", thereby giving the lyric an entirely different meaning, if indeed it has one at all. The phrase "May your house be safe from tigers" is originally from an ancient Buddhist prayer.
1. 'Souls Island' (6'34) - long, slow. The instrumental middle section is the highlight.
2. 'A House Safe For Tigers' (2'45) - the title track is OK (no more) and features a lush strings/horns outro.
3. 'Our Little Boy Blue' (2'26) - almost fifty years old, this is an early Lee song and is simply atrocious - a sub-nursery rhyme set to an awful trite childrens tune. Seems totally out of place on this CD.
4. 'Absent Friends' (3'53) - an inconsequential string instrumental version of (2) and (10), obviously recorded as atmospheric background for the film but it doesn't stand up as a CD track.
5. 'Sand Hill Anna And The Russian Mouse' (2'58) - a plodding melody and rather tired lyric with an unremarkable, clumsy chorus. The arrangement is a long way from the greatest you will ever hear on a Hazlewood track but at least this is a genuine Lee song, although it would never have got close to meriting inclusion on any of the albums from his golden era.
6. 'Lars Gunnar And Me' (2'52) - slightly better but almost ruined by a clichéd '70s lead-guitar.
7. 'Souls Island (Narration)' (6'34) - a note-for-note repeat of (1) but with a Swedish narration crudely superimposed over the instrumental sections - i.e. the opening track's best bits.
8. 'Las Vegas' (2'51) - a chaotic jazz instrumental, vaguely reminiscent of seventies TV backing music from 'Starsky & Hutch' or 'Kojak' but not nearly as good.
9. 'The Nights' (3'13) - when HSFT was first released this song was already nine years old, originally included on 'Its Cause And Cure' (MGM, 1966), on which it was one of the weakest tracks. But on this poor CD it stands out as possibly the strongest. Lee's vocal is spoken and very similar in stanza/structure to 'Jose', the other (rather better known) spoken vocal track from 'Its Cause And Cure'
10. 'A House Safe For Tigers' (2'02) - a pointless choral version of (2). Instantly forgettable.
So when the above is broken down - i.e. when you remove the duplicate of 'Souls Island' (7), the two filler instrumentals (4 and 8), the choral version of the title song (10) and the horrible regurgitated track from 1963 (3), what you are left with is very threadbare indeed - less than twenty minutes of music of which the highlight (9) is an old track from 45 years ago. As with many other posthumously released Lee Hazlewood CDs the best thing about this album is yet again the accompanying booklet. Wyndham Wallace provides a useful insight into this phase of Lee's career to follow his excellent liner notes for 'The LHI Years'.
Even the greatest songwriters have recorded turkeys. These reviews are supposed to offer prospective buyers an impartial opinion and so, with that in mind, I must advise that if you are new to Lee Hazlewood and wish to investigate his brilliant songwriting then this is clearly not the CD to buy. Get it only if you are a die-hard Lee fan and need to complete the collection or if you want to read the booklet.
Apparently there are further Hazlewood re-releases in the pipeline from Light In The Attic. So expect more of the same - out-takes, remasters, obscure curiosities, the occasional great track, tasteful packaging and some excellent liner notes. I for one can't wait!