Ok ok, so I know this probably breaks a bunch of unspoken rules. For one, I JUST wrote about Warren Zevon like TWO DAYS AGO. For two, what I’m writing about isn’t exactly an album, in that it’s a posthumous release of collected rarities and demos and a second disc of an interview with the man, the legend, the sandwich-enjoyer, Warren Zevon.
Well, in response to these self-inflicted objections I say:
1. Deal with it
2. I have decided that this album is enough of an album because the recordings are all from the same time period, and none of the songs appear on other recordings, since they were all recovered long after being recorded. Anyway, if I wasn’t able to write about this collection, I wouldn’t be able to write about Personal File OR Unearthed, two of my favorite posthumous releases from Johnny Cash. So I have decided to concede that I CAN write about posthumous “discovered” period collections, because this blog is about what *I* want to write about, and it’s all music anyway, right?
Right. On with the show:
This collection is sold both as a one-disc and a two-disc version. I really recommend the two-disc version, as the second disc is an excellent eye-opening interview with Warren in one of the strangest periods of his life you could have picked to talk with him. It was recorded in 1999, which was about 3 years before he found out he had terminal cancer, but right as he released one of his most death-related albums, Life’ll Kill Ya. I’ll get to that in a moment, first some of the demos on Disc 1:
It starts off with a solo performance of an early song of Warren’s called “Empty Hearted Town”, which features L.A., a city about which Warren sang but didn’t like to be considered part of, musically. It contains the line “Shoulda done, shoulda done” that would become one of the lines from the album version of “Accidentally Like A Martyr”. It’s a beautiful song, and I particularly like the line “I’m walking through the streets of L.A./Wishing I had a warmer jacket”.
The next song is a demo featuring a full band, and contains some very interesting instrumentation. It’s called “Steady Rain” and opens up with a metronome (or maybe some other ticking instrument) and a 12-string guitar riff that sounds really spacey, in fact the whole thing kind of sounds spacey, with the organs and reverb and everything. In fact, I would say the minor-key bridge is a 20 year precursor to Radiohead’s sound. I often wonder what would have happened if Warren did more of the Radiohead sound while Radiohead were still in diapers.
We then get treated to an acoustic guitar/vocal rendition of “Join Me In L.A.”, which is fun to listen to, because Warren liked to party with this song even when it was just clearly him in a room by himself. Right after that is a beautiful solo performance of “Hasten Down The Wind”, which I nearly prefer to the album version, since it’s so sparse and his vocal performance is actually a little more emotional-sounding in this particular performance.
Then a sample from Shakespeare opens up a really strange rendition of “Werewolves Of London”, which features almost none of the crashy dynamics of the album version. The piano is replaced by an organ, the guitar is just reverbed staccato notes playing rhythm as if in a reggae setup, and the “A-HOOO’s” are pushed way in the background and are sung in 2-part harmony. Also there’s a lot of gutteral growling, snarling and panting in the background, ALSO the choruses are cut roughly in half. Quite an eccentric performance, and definitely worth hearing for the novelty, or if you wanted to hear what the song sounds like on heavy medication.
The next song, “Tule’s Blues”, is a different version than the demo that appears on the CD remaster of Excitable Boy, and is a pretty good song about love lost between the performer and another musician named Tule. That is then followed up with an acoustic guitar performance of “The French Inhaler”, which is a pretty interesting take, since I didn’t even think you could adequately play it on guitar. Warren was really an underrated guitarist, he could really pound it out on the 12-string.
One favorite of mine in the collection is “Going All The Way”, mostly because it is such a standard song for something Warren wrote. Well, the piano/glockenspiel melody played through about half of the song is really creative, but the whole song is half-finished anyway, so I guess there’s no sense wondering what might have come out of this track.
We’re then treated to a particulary screamy demo of “Poor Poor Pitiful Me”, which starts out with a line that Warren didn’t sing in the album but did sing in the live album Stand In The Fire:
Well, I met a girl from the Vieux Carre
Down in Yokahama
She picked me up and she throwed me down
I said, “Please don’t hurt me, Mama”
Which, really I do prefer the song to start out with the album version’s lyrics, and I guess Warren felt the same way.
Then there’s a great song called “Studebaker” that I really would have liked to hear a finalized version of. It’s about having a Studebaker and regretting the fact that it breaks down all the time, and it unfortunately ends with a near-flub, so if there are other parts written, I guess we’ll never hear them!
We then are treated to an early, much wordier version of “Accidentally Like A Martyr”. It’s a bit more bitter and less sentimental, which would be the prevailing attitude in many more of his love-lost songs, but I’m kind of glad he went with the more sparse arrangement with the final album version. The song is also considerably faster in this demo version, and features some motown “hey hey hey”s at the end, which might have derailed the song in its slower arrangement. However, like with all the other demos, it’s great to hear how this stuff started out and what became of it.
It’s followed by a less-refined version of “Carmelita”, and then a very un-Zevon-like original called “I Used To Ride So High”. The latter doesn’t even sound like it’s sung by Warren for the most part, and it’s about 70% choruses, which would be a “thing” in Warren’s later albums, but still, it’s kind of a 70′s rock du jour song with falsetto to spare.
We’re then treated to a bit of a country song called “Stop Rainin’ Lord”, which is just a good song all around, though I can see where it wouldn’t fit on all but the later of Zevon’s albums. It references a town called “Mechanicsburg” which I really hope is a real town.
“The Rosalita Beach Cafe” is a really good song about being stuck in a cafe with an impossible to pay off tab, even though the singer “has a million dollar bill and they won’t let me change it”. Pretty great all around, but probably didn’t make it onto the album because it is rather close, lyrically, to “Desperadoes Under The Eaves”, which is the next song, actually! I don’t care how raw this version sounds, I always love hearing this song.
Next is an acoustic guitar song called “Workin’ Man’s Pay”, which is a very minory song about just what you think it’s about. Great song that quite reminds me of a Gentle Giant song called “Working All Day”, which I’m sure I’ll talk about later. This song is about half-finished on this collection, which is a shame. Also relatively unfinished is the silky smooth “Frozen Notes”, which I think is also a bonus on Excitable Boy. I am too lazy to check this.
Finally, we have the extremely scratchy and lo-fi “Some Kind Of Rider” which, despite its rough fidelity, has some really excellent harmonies. It sounds a lot like an old country record that has been buried in a pile of nails for centuries.
And with that, the collection’s first disc of 19 tracks comes to an end. Overall, an excellent collection, and really makes one wonder what might have been, and excepting the final few tracks, has excellent sound quality throughout.
The second disc, as I mentioned, is an interview Warren did for KGSR, Austin’s fancy-pants radio station. The interview is great to listen to, since Warren speaks with such articulation and everything he says is so genuine. Without giving away too much of the facts I’m sure to mention when I talk about Life’ll Kill Ya, I’ll reveal some things I learned about Warren:
1. He was a big Radiohead fan, and considered them “a favorite, which means out of 2 or 3 bands ever”.
2. He wrote a song from that album while driving to the Wal*Mart I live really close to!
3. He never considered himself an “unsuccessful rock singer”, but rather a “really successful folk singer”.
4. He played some songs at the inauguration of Minnesota Governor/ex-Wrestler/Actor who has no time for pain, Jesse Ventura. Ventura himself sang a rendition of “Werewolves Of London”.
And there are many more topics spoken of including mortality, being a “song noir” songwriter, and his views on music in general. Great stuff.
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