Sound — 8
"Reckless, gifted, provocative, irreverent, intelligent, courageous..." Actor, neighbor and fellow musician, Billy Bob Thornton truly summed up the charismatic musical enigma that was the late singer-songwriter Warren Zevon. Unfortunately, aside from a loyal cult following, Warren's music wasn't/isn't very widely known. Beginning his career in the 60's, his first album "Wanted Dead Or Alive" was released in 1969, being ignored by critics. It wasn't until his follow up, self titled album a whole 7 years later that Warren began to become noticed for his masterful lyricism. With the ability to tell entire stories in three minutes, Warren's forte was singing his darkly comic tales, "The Grim Reaper making a cameo in most." In 2002, not long before performing at the Edmonton Folk Music Festival in Canada, Warren developed a chronic cough and began to suffer from pain and shortness of breath. His dentist "Dr. Stan" convinced him to see a physician (Much to Warren's horror, as he'd described in interviews his lifelong phobia of doctors). He was soon diagnosed with an inoperable form of lung cancer, and given three more months to live. Refusing treatments, Warren gathered a fairly large group of friends and musicians (Including long time collaborator Jorge Calderon), setting out to record his "sonic so long" that would become "The Wind". This album, like every Zevon album before it, has a good mix of the classic 70's sounding rock and roll and folk singer-songwriter style he'd been known for. From the almost country sounding twang of the opening track, "Dirty Life And Times", to the heart wrenching "Keep Me In Your Heart", this is one of Warren's best. 1. "Dirty Life And Times" - Starting out almost immediately with slide guitar played by Ry Cooder, Warren sings about how he may want people to remember him, and some of the things he's done in his "Dirty Life And Times" that he would wish people could forget. Don Henley of the Eagles plays the drums on this song, with Billy Bob Thornton and Jorge Calderon on background vocals. Billy Bob's voice sounds very reminiscent of Johnny Cash in this song, and blends quite nicely with Warren and Jorge's. 2. "Disorder In The House" - A song described by Warren as "Accurately describing my state of mind". This isn't the strongest track on the record. But the electric guitar playing and background singing of "The Boss" Bruce Springsteen, again, blends very well with Warren's very distinct voice (even throwing a guitar solo in there too). 3. "Knockin' On Heaven's Door" - This Bob Dylan classic was recorded for the album the night before Warren's final appearance on the "Late Show" with David Letterman. Warren was the only guest that evening, speaking about his illness and giving his insight on death. He later thanked David for everything, calling him "The best friend my music's ever had". Jackson Browne, and Steve Gorman of The Black Crowes helped Warren out with this song, singing background vocals and playing drums respectively. 4. "Numb As A Statue" - "Let's do another bad one then, 'cause I like it when the blood drains from Dave's face..." A spoken quote by Warren Zevon on this track plays before the classic Zevon sound of guitar and piano playing wonderfully as one starts out. Dave in this case is referring to Dave Lindley, another musician Warren had been working with for many years. I think this song is about Warren trying to process everything that'd transpired since his diagnosis, as the song talks about searching for feelings. 5. "She's Too Good For Me" - A touching song, written as a last goodbye to his girlfriend Kristen. Don Henley again drums on this track, as Warren plays a lovely fingerpicking pattern on the acoustic guitar and sings. As with most of the songs on this album, again, Warren isn't the only voice heard. Timothy B. Schmit (also of the Eagles) provides background vocals to this song. 6. "Prison Grove" - "As we were writing this one, Jorge says to me: 'The Prison is your body'... My disease..." Another quote from the man himself (though this time not featured on the record itself.) Jackson Browne, Bruce Springsteen, T-Bone Burnett, Billy Bob Thornton, and Warren's son Jordan all appear as background vocalists to this song (during the eerie sounding chant in the song). "The Boss" again brings his electric guitar into the mix (no pun intended) on this track. This is a song about wanting to escape and be free of the prison that according to Jorge and Warren was the cancer. 7. "El Amor De Mi Vida" - Spanish for "The Love Of My Life", this is another song written to his girlfriend Kristen. Jorge Calderon provides the spanish lyrics during the chorus. The song is very soft and piano based, it's not really a favorite of mine. 8. "The Rest Of The Night" - Doing a complete 180 from all of the sadness, Warren writes a fairly chipper song about having a good time for the rest of the time you have. The opening lines say it best: "Why stop now? Let's party for the rest of the night!" Tom Petty and Jorge Calderon back up Warren in this tune, the most positive sounding track on the album. 9. "Please Stay" - This song seems to be written from Kristen's point of view. The title says it all, this a song begging someone to stay "until the end, when there's nothing left but you and me and the wind". The legendary Emmylou Harris sings the chorus with Warren. There's a beautiful saxophone performance in this song played by Gil Bernal. 10. "Rub Me Raw" - This is a rebellious, bluesy sounding tune. I think it's partially about rebelling against doctors orders, and about being sick and tired of being sick and tired. Joe Walsh plays a pretty mean sounding slide guitar on this song. 11. "Keep Me in Your Heart": "Shadows are falling and I'm runnin' out of breath Keep me in your heart for a while If I leave you it doesn't mean I love you any less Keep me in your heart for a while" The most touching song I've ever heard. This is the final song recorded by Warren Zevon. It's a goodbye to all of his friends and loved ones, and the first song he wrote after his diagnosis. An incredibly fitting end to this swansong of an album.
Lyrics — 10
What can be said about Warren Zevon's lyrical content that hasn't already been said many times? Often dark, humorous, sometimes just plain bizarre, the man was a storyteller. Growing up the son of a Russian gangster, Warren spent his childhood sitting at a piano studying classical music, being seduced by rock and roll as a teenager. His music is a mixture of both in terms of instrumental arrangement, but it always blends in with the lyrics, providing the perfect audible emotions to whatever tale is being spun. Though not known for being one of the greatest sings in rock music, Warren (at least before his sickness took a lot out of him) had a fairly impressive range. His voice was just never tonally the best, or the smoothest.
Overall Impression — 10
Bob Dylan, Stevie Nicks, Bruce Springsteen, and Linda Rondstadt all respected Warren's music, often covering his songs, or even collaborating with the man. The most impressive songs in my opinion would have to be "Keep Me In Your Heart", "Dirty Life And Times", and "Numb As A Statue". I grew up with Warren's music, so I must say I love just about everything about the album, the only thing I hate is that album unfortunately was his last. I'm not sure where I could find it besides the internet if I lost this CD or it was stolen, it's a good thing I have the album on my computer in addition to the CD. All in all, this album is a sort of roller coaster of emotions, sadly bringing a career and a life to a close.