Hazeldine exemplifies all the possibilities and frustrations surrounding the so-called alt-country movement. Formed in Albuquerque, NM, by three women -- Tonya Lamm (vocalist/guitarist), Shawn Barton (vocalist/guitarist), Anne Tkach (bass) -- and drummer Jeffrey Richards, the band quickly developed a local reputation and made a strong impression when they played at the Œ96 SWSX in Austin, TX. Of the band members, only Richards had previous professional experience, having played with Vic Chesnutt.
In 1997, Hazeldine recorded their live repertoire and posted it to German independent label Glitterhouse. The band was hoping for some positive feedback, but not quite the bombshell Glitterhouse dropped when they announced they wanted to sign the band and release the demo tape as a debut album. The demo was released as How Bees Fly in August 1997 and immediately picked up rave reviews across Europe. How Bees Fly remains the perfect summation of Hazeldine's sound: the sound is loose and raw, reminiscent of Crazy Horse with their fuzzy, feedback guitars, while the harmonies of Lamm and Barton hover above, as gorgeous as those of Dolly and Emmy Lou. Songs such as "Apothecary" and "Tarmac" found them defining female sensuality in a manner rarely tackled by singers in country or rock while a cover of Grant Lee Buffalo's "Fuzzy" showed them pledging allegiance to the new energies alive in American music.
The European response to How Bees Fly was so strong that they were signed to an international deal by Polydor Records. Entering the studio with producer Jim Scott, Hazeldine re-recorded four of the songs from How Bees Fly, covered Lee Hazelwood's "Summer Wine" and cut several new songs for the 1998 album Digging You Up. This time all the traces of Crazy Horse and parched desert punk were gone, replaced with a slick contemporary country production that emphasized the band's gift for melody and harmony. Digging You Up was a thoroughly professional album and in that lay its problems -- Hazeldine was too idiosyncratic to be simply another pop-country outfit and the album failed to satisfy old fans or win new ones.
At the same time, Glitterhouse issued Orphans, a ten-track mail-order-only (initially) covers album that found the band tackling everyone from Radiohead to Gram Parsons and Peter Gabriel. As Polydor was swallowed in the merger mania in 1999, Hazeldine found themselves freed from their contract. Richards left around this time, while the band continued to tour in both the U.S. and Europe. After that there was a period of silence while band members worked on different projects; Tkach recorded and toured with Willard Grant Conspiracy.
In 2000 Tkach, Barton, and Lamm regrouped and resigned to Glitterhouse. With producer Chris Stamey (formerly of the dB's) they recorded Double Back, a 13-song original set that found them once again singing like honky tonk angels. Stamey emphasised the band's vocal talents while not over egging their instrumentation, creating a strong album that showed Albuquerque's finest once again creating epic, brooding American music. ~ Garth Cartwright, Rovi