In 2000, musician Charles Normal was living in Oslo, Norway. One day, feeling particularly homesick, he hit up a second-hand record store, where he unearthed Lee Hazelwood’s 1963 album Trouble Is a Lonesome Town. Almost immediately, Normal forged a connection with the album’s profound sense of isolation and tales of dreary solitude. Now, some 13 years later, he’s recruited a slew of A-list vocalists to record their own version of Hazelwood’s under-celebrated debut.
“It really made me start thinking about America, where I hadnt been to in quite some time, Normal told the Wall Street Journal of his discovery. “Im a big fan of The Andy Griffith Show, and that small-town Americana we grew up watching on TV and this was like the audio companion to that. It had kind of a sinister vibe, it was a little darker. I thought that would be cool, to record these songs as if it was a band doing a cover, but I didnt really have a band in mind.”
The album includes contributions from Black Francis, Pete Yorn, The Dandy Warhols’ Courtney Taylor-Taylor, Eddie Argos of Art Brut, and Modest Mouse’s Isaac Brock, who sings on “The Railroad”. Fleshed out over a long talk between Normal and Brock “over a couple of bottles of wine about death and families”, the track is like some lively drinking song ripped from an old tavern, complete with rollicking piano, exaggerated horns, and Brock’s slightly tipsy croon about days of hard work and lost loves. Listen in below
For context, here’s the original version sung by Hazlewood.
Trouble Is a Lonesome Town will be available July 9th via SideOneDummy Records as the first installment in their “Thriftstore Masterpiece” covers series (pre-order your copy here). Along with the aforementioned guests, the LP features the final recordings of late Christian-rock pioneer Larry Norman, Normal’s brother who passed in 2008.