Warren Zevon

The Wind (Artemis ’03) Rating: A-
It’s with a touch of shame that I begin this review. I mean, were it not for the publicity about the circumstances surrounding this album (he recorded it knowing he would soon die from inoperable lung cancer - he passed away on 9/7/2003 at the age of 56) would I be reviewing it? Probably not, but better to discover Mr. Zevon late than never, so here goes. First of all, as a cancer survivor myself this album hit especially close to home for me, and I hope I handled my ordeal with half the class and courage that Zevon handled his. The difference is I knew I was going to live (denial can be a very powerful thing) and Warren knew just the opposite, yet he simply tightened his belt buckle and got down to the business of recording what turned out to be a mighty fine epitaph. He had plenty of help in the form of friends such as Ry Cooder, Dwight Yoakam, T-Bone Burnett, Bruce Springsteen, Don Henley, Timothy B. Schmit, Tom Petty, Mike Campbell, Jackson Browne, David Lindley, Emmylou Harris, and Joe Walsh (among others!), whose appearances occasionally seem forced but which are generally inspired. For example, Yoakam adds rough yet right backing vocals on Warren’s melodic look back at his “Dirty Life and Times,” while Bruce adds some truly hellacious guitar to “Disorder in the House,” a hard charging garage rocker. You see, this album balances serious introspection with some flat-out fun rockers such as “Numb as a Statue,” on which Lindley adds his instantly recognizable guitar signature, and “The Rest of the Night,” a generic yet enjoyable rocker on which Petty is equally unmistakable. The room instantly chills on the spare, ghostly “Prison Grove,” arguably the album’s most musically adventurous song, while Walsh reprises some of his “Rocky Mountain Way” licks on “Rub Me Raw,” a good, gritty blues rocker. Which brings us to the ballads that give this album its emotional depth and resonance. Even when musically plain, which is sometimes the case (on the rockers as well, as previously alluded to), the lyrics rarely fail to move me, such as when Warren humbly sings “I’m everything she wants and nothing she needs” on “ She's Too Good for Me,” which features vocal support from Henley and Schmit. Possibly the best ballad from a musical standpoint is “El Amor de Mi Vida,” a stately piano piece about a lost love who got away; the Spanish chorus adds a touch of class. “Please Stay,” a duet with Emmylou Harris, is a real tearjerker on which a vulnerable Warren seeks comfort as the bitter end approaches (again, the smoky sax adds the perfect accompaniment). Earlier, Zevon tackles Bob Dylan’s “Knockin' on Heaven's Door” on the album’s only serious misstep. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a great song, and Cooder’s guitar playing on it is typically first rate, but the song seems too obvious, and when he yells “open up!” at the end I’m not sure if I’m supposed to laugh or cry. Which reminds me, did I mention how humorous this album often is? Well, I’m doing so now, as Warren still had his acerbic wit and gallows humor intact, which offsets the heaviness that appears elsewhere, such as on “Keep Me in Your Heart,” which ends the album on the most personal of notes. This one is all about its lyrics (“hold me in your thoughts, take me to your dreams, touch me when I fall into view, when the Winter comes, keep the fires lit and I will be right next to you") as Warren says his goodbyes and asks simply that we remember him. What would seem like an overly sentimental or mawkish ploy in the hands of a less honest craftsman strikes just the right balance from this man, who simply demands respect. After all, simply finishing the album was quite an accomplishment, and as a former hell raiser who by all accounts cleaned up his act and became a responsible adult he could teach perpetual adolescents such as Tommy Lee and Axl Rose a thing or two. Hell, he could probably teach us all a thing or two, like how an indomitable spirit can rise up and shine in even the toughest of times, or simply how to write some good tunes as he has done throughout this highly poignant and oddly life-affirming album.

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