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SoundStage! Update

Three New Old Stock Releases from Warren Zevon

April 4, 2007

When Warren Zevon succumbed to lung cancer in 2003, the music world lost a voice of original wit and heartfelt honesty. I began listening to Zevon in my teens, at one point owning every one of his albums on vinyl. Most have been transferred to CD, but surprisingly two from the early '80s weren't available on shiny disc for years. Shortly after Zevon's death, both albums -- Stand in the Fire from 1981 and The Envoy from 1982 -- were brought to CD in expensive Japanese editions that essentially no one knew existed.

Rhino has changed all that with brand-new versions of both along with a remastered version of arguably Zevon's best album, Excitable Boy, from 1978. All three boast of improved sound and include unreleased bonus materials.

Excitable Boy includes Zevon's biggest hit, "Werewolves of London," and also one of the songs that his fans most closely associate with him, "Lawyers, Guns and Money." The title cut, which is thick with irony, has been a favorite as well. The CD includes an alternate version of "Werewolves of London" and an unreleased demo, "I Need a Truck," that I wish Zevon would have formally recorded at some point. Excitable Boy existed on CD before this new release, which does sound more detailed than the earlier CD.

The title song for The Envoy seems as relevant today as it did when the album was released, with its description of tension in the Middle East, but songs like "Jesus Mentioned" and "Charlie's Medicine" give the album its downtrodden uneasiness and focus. The Envoy ends with one of Zevon's many songs about the importance of love, "Never Too Late for Love," emphasizing the juxtaposition of themes that Zevon would engage in throughout his songwriting career: the dark side of life and the healing beauty of love.

The one album I would recommend to anyone unfamiliar with what Warren Zevon was about would be Stand in the Fire, recorded live at the Roxy in Los Angeles. The energy of the music here benefits from the crowd's interaction with Zevon, who does all of his best-known songs, ad-libbing new lyrics for a few. There wasn't much that Rhino could do with the sound here -- it has always been congealed and compressed -- but the music overcomes any sonic shortcomings. Of all of the bonus materials on any of these new Rhino releases, the ones for Stand in the Fire are the most significant. There is a certain pathos to Zevon's words before "Hasten Down the Wind," and the additional live performances make us realize what we lost when Zevon died. This is one of the best rock'n'roll-concert albums ever made.

I don’t think there will be another CD released this year that I will cherish as much as these three. Oh, I take that back: Rhino's Handmade imprint will release T-Bone Burnett's never-before-on-CD Proof Through the Night with a pair of EPs recorded around the same time. That will be an event, at least around my house....Marc Mickelson, editor@soundstage.com

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