Producer Charles Normal has spent years crafting a revival of country artist Lee Hazlewood’s influential 1963 debut album, Trouble Is A Lonesome Town. Today, he finally sees his passion project come to life, thanks to help from such notable artists as Frank Black and Modest Mouse frontman Isaac Brock. Titled Thriftstore Masterpiece Presents Lee Hazlewood’s Trouble Is A Lonesome Town, the SideOneDummy release is likely to be the first in a series of similar revival albums.
Normal, a longtime producer and musician, got the idea for the album while living in Oslo, Norway, where he wandered into a thrift shop and came across the Hazlewood album. A casual listen evolved into the idea of reworking some of the songs, potentially for his own shows. But as the project continued, Normal eventually decided to recreate the entire album.
“I thought if I’m going to re-record it, I don’t want to re-record it as it is,” Normal tells The Hollywood Reporter. “I’ll start orchestrating it, arranging it with a different genre of Americana in mind for each song. Some Tex-Mex ideas, some surf music ideas, some mariachi ideas, which is not strictly Americana thing but there’s plenty of mariachi bands in America so I figured I’d count it. Some George Gershwin chord progressions. I was trying to tip a hat to the panoply of Americana while still sticking true to the story that was on the original Trouble album.”
While touring with Frank Black, Normal asked the Pixies singer to lend his vocals to a few of the tracks. Similar collaborations took place with Brock, Pete Yorn, Dandy Warhols’ Courtney Taylor-Taylor and Art Brut’s Eddie Argos. Normal’s brother Larry Norman, who passed away in 2008, is also movingly featured on several songs. The end result, released on what would have been Hazlewood’s 83rd birthday, is an eclectic take on an album that has both been beloved and forgotten.
“I’ve done covers before — I think most recording artists have — but this is the first time I felt compelled to recreate a whole record,” Normal says. “But this is going to be an ongoing project because I really enjoyed the process. It was really liberating to be able to do it when, basically, the artist is not there and can’t talk back. I never thought about it in those terms, but that’s probably what I liked about it.”
Normal has since been taking suggestions on his website for further revival projects, although he says some of the suggestions are better than others. He also hopes to bring these songs to the stage in some way, but fans shouldn’t expect his all-star cast of musicians to jump on a collaborative tour any time soon.
“An ideal thing would maybe do a one-off show, at the Ryman in Nashville or something,” Normal says. “A theater setting, and present it as a stage play, which is what the record was. But the logistics of getting all these different, well-known singers in the same room at the same time is a logistics problem that wouldn’t be in my hands. I’m talking to a couple of the guys about doing some live performances. Not all of us together. But Courtney Taylor-Taylor [doing] maybe three or four of these songs. Even if we just show up at an open mic night somewhere and surprise people.”
The album’s release is especially poignant for Normal because it was the last thing his brother recorded before he died. “It was nice to listen to his voice and think, ‘That was my brother,’” Normal says of the song “Lord I’d Like to Leave This Town.” “Like seeing old photographs of your grandparents or long-lost siblings. People who were fans of my brother really love the two songs that he’s singing on this record. He put out over 100 albums in his lifetime. It’s a nice way to honor his memory.”