Warren Zevon’s “The Envoy” (1982) – The Deep Racks Report

Originally posted 2010-09-12 10:00:43. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

A Special Edition of the Weekend Review

I think we’ve all heard the term “deep track,” used to refer to songs that do not receive much (or any) commercial radio airplay.  This series is dedicated to brief but focused reports on ALBUMS that do not receive as much commercial or critical attention as they should.

By Chris Moore:

Considerable time has passed since I last dug deep into the racks for a dusty gem, as Cuomo and company might say, to wipe off and take out for a spin.  Inadvertently coming across this record today has proved reason enough to revive the Deep Racks Report.

To suggest that The Envoy is least appreciated of all Warren Zevon albums would be an understatement.  It is the production whose reception resulted in his record label dropping him by the wayside.  It is the release that coincided — not so coincidentally, after he discovered he was unemployed via a music magazine — with a self-destructive run that landed him in rehab.

Some albums that are not as successful as the big-wigs may have hoped are given a second shot in re-release. The Envoy was given that chance…

…twenty-four years after it hit the shelves.

On the eve of its release in 2006, I found it conspicuous that this Zevon record had never been converted to CD previously.  The obvious question was, how bad could it possibly be?

I had my reservations.

Admittedly due in part to my low expectations, I became immediately enamored with these nine tracks.  It is a brief album, to be certain, but in my opinion, there are far too many examples of those releases that suffer from the opposite flaw.  The nine songs that comprise The Envoy are a cohesive set that negotiate the common territory of, well, negotiating the concerns of the singer: love and authority, to name a couple.

While not innovative, these songs are far from pedestrian.  Zevon continues along the same sonic veins that he has established on previous records, adding the uncharacteristically stripped-down, acoustic “Jesus Mentioned” — a preview of what was to come in the latter half of his career — and the unhinged romp “Ain’t That Pretty At All,” which shakes up the formula at the top of side B.

Warren Zevon's "The Envoy" (1982)

Warren Zevon's "The Envoy" (1982)

There are those that might scoff at my self-righteous resurrection of a lost album, mumbling to themselves about how albums are often deserving of their respective fates.  How low must my bar be set that I could admit such a lost and forgotten sample from Zevon’s nearly three decade long recording career?  The answer is: because I’ve heard lots of Zevon lots and lots of times.  I know a good Zevon release from a great one, and I can distinguish between the misguided, the mediocre, and the amazing.

This album leans decidedly towards the latter.

The Envoy has it all.  There is the fantastic, destined-for-the-greatest-hits track “Looking for the Next Best Thing.”  There are the straightforward rockers “The Envoy,” with its clever, then-contemporary political implications, and “The Overdraft,” which voices concerns of a more personal nature.  There are the tongue-in-cheek, tragic (i.e. typically Zevon-esque) tracks “The Hula Hula Boys” and “Charlie’s Medicine.”  And, for good measure, the songwriter reminds us that he’s not entirely jaded with a pair of purposeful, confident, and dare I say even romantic numbers: “Let Nothing Come Between You” and “Never Too Late for Love.”

Equally important to any serious study of The Envoy is the investigation of the songs that didn’t make the cut.  Wisely, Zevon withheld the overly eighties-sounding “The Risk,” a decision that speaks volumes for his clear mindedness regarding album sequencing, even at the worst of times. And it does makes a fun little bonus track, as does his cover of “Wild Thing.”  I would hope there was never any serious consideration paid towards adding this Troggs cover to the lineup, but all that really matters is that it was never included.

Even if these outtakes had been added, there would be no clear reason to excommunicate The Envoy from Warren Zevon’s body of available work.  There would have been less reason to respect it, but the nine tracks that did, in actuality, make the cut amount to a tight, smart album that knows when to crank up to breakneck speed and when to unroll a ballad, where to be sardonic and where to be sincere.

It is with great pleasure that I add The Envoy to my list of “Deep Racks” recommendations.  I hope you enjoy it!  (If you can find it…)

Warren Zevon’s “Warren Zevon” (1976) – The Weekend Review

Originally posted 2010-06-07 22:03:32. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

By Chris Moore:

RATING:  5 / 5 stars

Technically not his debut album, Warren Zevon is the first true Zevon record.

It came after quite a series of career turns, beginning with Zevon and high school friend Violet Santangelo forming lyme & cybelle and nicking the charts with the co-written “Follow Me.”  Although it was clear that Zevon had tremendous potential — “(You Used to) Ride  So High,” anyone? — he was replaced after two singles by the snooze-worthy Wayne Erwin (who somehow ended up firing Santangelo).

So, Zevon spent time as a songwriter (try “Outside Chance,” which the Turtles covered), session musician, and even jingle writer.  Then, as Zevon put it, “Wanted Dead or Alive [his solo debut] was released in 1970 to the sound of one hand clapping.”  Supposedly, there was a second album in the works, but information on that is very difficult to find.

After working as the band leader for the Everly Brothers, both as a duo and as solo artists after their breakup, Zevon had the good fortune to be noticed by Jackson Browne.  Their collaboration led to Browne producing Warren Zevon.

It was such a long time in coming, but this is an album with some of the most beautiful, heartbreaking, lyrically interesting songs ever written.  The performances are largely minimalist, but resplendent in their tight yet natural arrangements.  With a blend of humor and straight-faced realism that was never equaled by another artist, always poetic, the eleven tracks on Warren Zevon explore and explode the sides of ourselves that we don’t like to acknowledge.

Even the opening ballad “Frank and Jesse James” paints these infamous outlaws as victims of the turning political tides of the American government.  This version of the story may be skewed, and yet this is a theme that continues to have relevance to the present day and represents an aspect of our nation that few — particularly those in power — wish to take ownership of.

Warren Zevon's "Warren Zevon" (1976)

Warren Zevon's "Warren Zevon" (1976)

Sales were not overly impressive, but A&R men were impressed, like Burt Stein who reflected, “I got to run with that record and we got the ball rolling for Warren.  It was warmly received…”

The critics agreed, which found Newsweek describing Zevon as a “refreshing rarity” and The Village Voice hailing him as an “upcoming major artist.”  Of course, unsurprisingly, Rolling Stone gave a positive review tempered with such qualifiers as “despite its imperfections” — um, which would those be? — and “on its own artistic terms it is almost a complete success” — where do they find these numb-skulls?   What kind of wishy-washy middle-of-the-road garbage this was, and RS‘s Stephen Holden didn’t stop there.  He noted that it doesn’t have the “obvious commercial appeal of an Eagles album,” as if that is something that any serious rock artist would strive for.

Without question, without qualification, Warren Zevon is a truly classic album, one that you can listen to repeatedly without ceasing and without tiring.  It is one of those albums that, particularly while driving at night, you could lose yourself in if you’re not careful.

The pinnacle comes right at the middle with “The French Inhaler,” an exploration of Zevon’s question: “How you gonna make your way in the world, woman, when you weren’t cut out for working?”  His lyricism is unsurpassed here, as he tosses barbs (“You said you were an actress, yes, I believe you are…”) and voices biting observations (“Your face looked like something death brought with him in his suitcase…”).  The final movement of the song, with the title of the song, is poignant.  There is a sense of loss here that pervades many of the songs on this album, and yet he manages to create these seedy and somber landscapes in the form of focused rock’n’roll tracks.

Elsewhere, the music is soothing (“Mohammed’s Radio”), utterly devastated in its heartbreak (“Hasten Down the Wind”), energetically defiant (“I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead”), and mournfully beautiful (“Desperadoes Under the Eaves”).  This is not even to account for some of the best tracks on the album, single-worthy songs like the definitive Zevon-esque track “Poor Poor Pitiful Me” (the song I wish he’d been known for by the general public, rather than “Werewolves of London”), the compelling “Backs Turned Looking Down the Path” and the downright catchy “Mama Couldn’t Be Persuaded.”

What keeps me coming back to Warren Zevon are the fascinating lyrics which drive these tracks.  If you’ve heard the piano demos of any of these songs, then you know what an undeniably brilliant songwriter and performer Zevon is.  Instrumentally, I find new riffs, solos, and other more subtle aspects of Waddy Wachtel and David Lindley’s guitarwork each time I listen.  Bob Glaub and Larry Zack pull off bass and drum duties (on most tracks) with more than a session musician’s proficiency; there is a creativity and finesse here that I delight in on each track.

And have I mentioned how much I look forward to Carl Wilson’s vocal arrangement on the tag of the album closer, “Desperadoes Under the Eaves”?  Whenever you call a Beach Boy in for vocal duties, you’re pretty much assured a heavenly vocal presence that many have tried and few — perhaps none — have actually duplicated.

For these and so many other reasons, Warren Zevon is the first true Zevon record and ranks among the best of his career.  This is not to say he peaked on his quasi-debut album; rather, it is to say that Warren Zevon deserves more credit than many would give it when they refer to the “potential” expressed by these eleven songs.

Truly, this is not the lead-off effort; this is the first home run of an under-appreciated career.

“Excitable Boy” (Warren Zevon Cover)

Originally posted 2008-02-07 00:06:53. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

By Chris Moore:

There’s lots of good stuff happening here at LaptopSessions.com! I’ve been spurred on by Jim and Jeff’s recent plans for releases and by all of Jim’s tireless work designing the website, so I have a couple “extra’s” for you today.

First of all, I posted my review of Ringo’s Liverpool 8 album a half hour ago. (Another goal of mine this year is to write at least brief reviews of all the new albums I buy this year.) In the coming days and weeks, you can look for reviews of both Sheryl Crow’s and Jack Johnson’s new albums that came out today.

In addition to the CD review, I have also posted a second “Behind the Scenes” video. I had the idea to make this short film when I was recording the session for Warren Zevon’s “Excitable Boy.” It’s really cheesy, but it was easy and fun to make, and I wanted to share it with you all.

Finally, of course, I have posted my second song from one of my absolute favorite artists, Warren Zevon. You may know him for “Werewolves of London,” but he has written so much more! This is one of his more well-known songs and I hope you enjoy it. It’s somewhat disturbing, but if you think about the overall idea of the song, it’s actually an interesting statement from Zevon.

I hope you enjoy all the new posts to be found on the site today, and you can look forward to all-new material from Jeff and Jim in the days to come as “a session-a-day keeps the viewers…um, coming back to LaptopSessions.com” continues!