Something often goes terribly wrong when rock bands try to play country music. Thriftstore Masterpiece is a revolving music collective assembled by producer Charles Normal, assigned the task of covering forgotten 'masterpieces' found in thrift stores. Lee Hazlewood's 1963 debut, Trouble is a Lonesome Town is their first target, often rendered cartoonish by its squeaky-clean production and out-of-place guitar distortion.

Trouble is a Lonesome Town opens with 'Long Black Train', sung by album narrator Frank Black from The Pixies. As with many of the songs on this album, Lee Hazlewood's original songwriting holds the song together, making it indestructible to a certain extent. However, the insistent high-hats, stiff snares, crowded trumpets and loud guitars threaten to overpower the song. Black's other songs, 'Son of a Gun' and 'Run Boy Run', fare better instrumentally, but the childish voice on the former steps the song into sounding like a parody. Trouble is a Lonesome Town is to country music what Rango was to Western films.

Not all the characters on this album, presented by the various singers, come off as caricatures, though. Kristin Blix's 'We All Make The Flowers Grow' benefits especially from the acoustic production. Isaac Brock and Pete Yorn's performances are impressively committed, sounding like they're feeling the song through their character's perspective. Brock's sung about death enough before to pull it off, and Yorn's 'Six Feet of Chain' is a less tragic version of Johnny Cash's 'The Wall'.

Eddie Argos of Art Brut's 'Perculiar Guy' also works the goofiness to his advantage. The track could stand alone as an alt-country or rock hit if it weren't for Black's narration, which occasionally detracts from the songs. However, as it was an integral part of the original album it had to stay.

As a whole, Trouble is a Lonesome Town makes for a fun novelty album--it's the kind you can put on at themed parties to achieve a Western aesthetic. Fans of the guest artists on the album may enjoy hearing them outside their normal contexts, while fans of Hazlewood should approach with caution. It was a tough task after all--even the stellar line-up of The Blues Brothers only just managed to pull off the country classic 'Theme From Rawhide'--but it's not without its few standout moments.


Listen to album highlight 'We All Make the Flowers Grow' by Kristin Blix via Youtube below:

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