Monday, August 22, 2011

Enjoy Every Sandwich: The Songs of Warren Zevon

Warren Zevon is one of the greatest singer/songwriters our country has ever produced, but I never picked up this tribute album because, frankly, the greatest tribute you can pay to a singer is to listen and relisten to his old stuff, not listen to covers by a bunch of singers who probably won't do the originals much justice. I'm not saying tribute albums shouldn't exist, however, since many are very good and give the singer's friends and fans a chance to honor his or her memory one last time, but still... how often are covers ever better than the originals?

However, I am a big Warren Zevon fan, so when I was house sitting for my sister a few weekends ago and saw this CD on her kitchen table, I borrowed it. As a tribute album, it's not bad and contains a few really great covers, but all in all, it was as I expected: It just made me want to go back and listen to my Warren Zevon CDs.

The title is taken from his final TV appearance, an interview with David Letterman. After Letterman asked him if his recent diagnosis with terminal cancer taught him anything about life that he didn't know before, he replied "just that you should enjoy every sandwich." Watch that episode of David Letterman before you listen to this DC, since it's one of the greatest moments in TV history (for real). Anyway, here are my thoughts on this CD's song list:

1. "Searching For a Heart" by Don Henley
I like this one. It feels more bluesy than the original, with a slower pace, more guitar and drums, and a vocal performance by Henley that is somehow even more raspy than Zevon's. This is a pretty song.

2. "Werewolves of London" by Adam Sandler
Odd choice, but not all together a bad one. Anyway, it's not as bad as you'd think, nor is it played as a joke. It's just Adam Sandler singing it straight. As I said, odd choice, since he's not a very good singer, but he's not too bad either. I'm not sure if he just sings or if he plays any of the music, but the arrangement is quite good. This is ok, but considering how awesome the original was, this tribute should've been covered by an actual musician. Skip it.

3. "Reconsider Me" by Steve Earle and Reckless Kelly
I don't know much about Steve Earle other than that he played Walton on the Wire. About Reckless Kelly I know nothing, not even if he or she is an actual person. Anyway, this cover is pretty good, if a little boring. I like it ok, and it's worth checking out.

4. "Poor Poor Pitiful Me" by Jackson Browne and Bonnie Raitt
This cover is every bit as good as it sounds, even if it doesn't top the original. Jackson Browne and Bonnie Raitt are both brilliant and this is as good a song as Zevon ever wrote, so this is one of the best covers on the album.

5. "My Ride's Here" by Bruce Springsteen
Bruce Springsteen doing Warren Zevon should be a homerun... and it is, for the most part, but as good as this is, I still can't help but wish Springsteen had taken on a song with a bit more oomph. My Ride's Here is a good song, but I dunno. I want to here the Boss doing I Was in the House When the House Burned Down, I'll Sleep When I'm Dead, or something else with that same intensity or excitement. But I shouldn't complain since this is a very good, very powerful cover that opens with a nice intro where Bruce talks about his good friend Warren Zevon.

6. "Lawyers, Guns, and Money," by The Wallflowers
Awesome song, awful cover. If you love the Wallflowers, you might like this one. If, like most people, you think they kind of suck, well... Skip it.

7. "Studebaker" by Jordan Zevon
This one is phenomenal, and might be my pick for the best of the lot. Jordan Zevon is the son of Warren Zevon, and while his voice is very similar, it's different enough to let him stand on his own. This track is taken from his pretty good album Insides Out. How does it compare to the original? Who knows, since the original track was never actually released so I haven't heard it. Maybe that's why this one sounds so good to me.

8. "The Wind" by Billy Bob Thornton
Another cover of an unreleased track. This one isn't as good as Studebaker, but it's ok. As a singer, Billy Bob Thornton is a great actor, but he does ok. It's jut a bit flat and uninspired. But it's a pretty song and Thornton sings it ok. But I wouldn't blame you for skipping it.

9. "Splendid Isolation" by Pete Yorn
This one is pretty awesome. Yorn is one of the few singers on this album that doesn't sound as though they are doing a Warren Zevon impression. He's just singing a song that sound like a Pete Yorn song, and it's the better for it. This is a good one.

10. "Mutineer" by Bob Dylan
If you like Warren Zevon, chances are good you like Bob Dylan too, so this is a pretty good combo that results in a pretty good cover. However... I like the original a lot more.

11. "Monkey Wash, Donkey Rinse" by David Lindley and Ry Cooder
This is a fun, bouncy song by two well respected but not very well known musicians. Ry Cooder is a great blues guitarist while David Lindley is best known as a session musician who has worked with Warren Zevon and just about every other major rock star. I like this one.

12. "Don't Let Us Get Sick," by Jill Sobule
This is very pretty and very boring. This is one of the best and most touching songs I've ever heard, but Sobule's voice doesn't have the same melancholy intensity of Warren Zevon, so it doesn't really work for me. Listen to the original instead.

13. "Ain't That Pretty At All," by the Pixies
If you like the Pixies, you'll like this. I don't, however, so I don't. This isn't my favorite Zevon song, and the Pixies didn't do much with it.

14. "Keep Me in Your Heart" by Jorge Calderon and Jennifer Warnes
This is a very good cover that falls short of the original if only because nothing could ever come close. "Keep Me in Your Heart" is one of the last songs written and recorded by Zevon before he died, but written after he knew he was going to die. The original is one of the most haunting and beautiful songs you'll ever hear, but this cover does a great job. It's such a wonderful song that it would nearly impossible to have it not be touching.

15. "Keep Me in Your Heart" (String Only) by Van Dyke Parks
This is as advertised: A string arrangement of "Keep Me in Your Heart." It's pretty and probably a nice way to end the album, but I'll probably skip it.

So... there you go. All things considered, this is a very good tribute to Warren Zevon. But still... before you buy this, buy some CDs by Warren Zevon himself. But if you are already a fan, this is a nice tribute to the man's career. I liked it.

1 comment:

Mugato said...

I grew up with Zevon on the record player, he was a master at his craft. If I saw this CD in a store and noticed Adam fucking Sandler singing Werewolves of London on it, I would instantly vomit. The CD has great artists on it; Henley, Springsteen, Jackson Browne, Raitt, Dylan ... oh yeah and also Adam Sandler. What? And he gets to sing the most popular song. Nothing against Sandler, but it's just odd.