Monday, July 23, 2018

CD Odyssey Disc 1161: Warren Zevon

Before the next music review, a quick word on bus etiquette. I don’t expect much from bus etiquette. This is transit that costs a lowly $2.50 and can take you 30 kilometers or more on a single ticket – you get what you pay for.

At the same time, $2.50 also only buys you one seat – not a license to try to secure two or three by getting all passive aggressive. If you are sitting on the back bench of the bus and you’re the first one back there, pick a window (let’s call that seat #1. If you’re second, pick the other window (#5) so that those coming in third can have seat #3 in the middle. People who start out in Seats 2 and 4 don’t do it by accident; they’re trying to have three seats to themselves by making the window inaccessible and the middle seat less appealing. In a word, it is uncool and selfish. Stop it.

OK – on with the review.

Disc 1160 is… Self-Titled
Artist: Warren Zevon

Year of Release: 1976

What’s up with the Cover? This looks a lot like me getting ready for a night on the town. What’s that you say? Those fashions are from 1976? Like that would ever stop me.

How I Came To Know It: Once my friend Randall put me onto Warren Zevon I fell pretty hard. This album was just part of me drilling through the best parts of his collection, which is most of it.

How It Stacks Up:  I have ten Warren Zevon albums, which is all but two of them. The ten I have are the best ten, and of these I rank this one #3.

Ratings: 4 stars

Warren Zevon’s eponymously-titled 1976 record was not technically his first release, but it feels like the moment he arrived. He is still two years away from his masterpiece “Excitable Boy” but all the ingredients are now coming together.

Zevon has a natural talent for writing a timeless pop melody, and with varying production most of the songs on “Warren Zevon” could be hits in any decade from the fifties to the present day. It feels like a crime that that only one ever was and it wasn’t even Zevon singing. “Poor Poor Pitiful Me” was a Linda Ronstadt cover. Ronstadt sang the hell out of that song like the dark and sexy angel she is, but it still leaves me feeling bad for Zevon, laboring so long in the shadows.

Zevon wasn’t in the shadows to his fellow artists, however. This album is absolutely packed with guest appearances of music royalty: Jackson Browne, Phil Everly, Bonnie Raitt, two Eagles, and a couple members of Fleetwood Mac all lend their talents. OK, one of the Eagles was Glen Frey, but still…

However big these names are, they are still the guests and this is Zevon’s show. He wrote every track and while there are some pretty harmonies and guitar licks Zevon’s rich tone leads every song and it his piano holding it all together.

I particularly like the piano on “Frank and Jesse James,” a romanticized retelling of the famed outlaws. Zevon plays it with a jaunty bounce that evokes an old west saloon. Maybe it is the iconoclast in me, but as a kid I was always drawn to stories of old west outlaws and this is as fine a telling of the James Brother’s story as you’ll hear.

Elsewhere Zevon explores his own rather unique childhood with “Mama Couldn’t Be Persuaded” (Warren’s father was a bit of a gambler and ne’er-do-well). This could have been dark, but he tells the tale with an upbeat tempo that makes you want to get up and dance. It feels more like a musical – like the way the Von Trapp’s flee the Nazis with a song in their heart, only with more blackjack.

This song fades into the wistful and worldly-wise “Backs Turned Looking Down the Path” a song that in a single image captures the carefree nature of youth and the calm acceptance of youth.

Stylistically, Zevon incorporates western music, R&B, pop, and Latin with equal skill, knowing just what each song needs to achieve its potential.

It was fun to hear “I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead” as a song, given I evoked that notion as my personal slogan all the way into my mid-thirties. Now in my late forties I’ve come to appreciate a good nap more than I thought I ever would. Even so it is fun to be reminded of the glory of burning bright and heavy-lidded through your youth. If I could go back I’d probably try to get more sleep, but anyone who says youth is wasted on the young is just jealous. Only the young can truly enjoy what they they’ve got because they’re the only ones that don’t realize how precious it is. That lack of perspective is liberating.

Zevon was a relatively old 29 when he released this record, but he’s still young enough (or reckless enough) to understand youthful vigour. The additional infusion of a little perspective doesn’t blunt his enthusiasm, it just makes him appreciate it more and creates a record that walks the perfect line between adventure and wisdom, exploring how there is a bit of each in the other along the way.

Best tracks: Frank and Jesse James, Mama Couldn’t be Persuaded, Backs Turned Looking Down the Path, Poor Poor Pitiful Me, Mohammed’s Radio, Carmelita

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