Being a rock critic sounds like a really nice, cushy, and fun job for the most part. Who wouldn't want to review music for a living? But, imagine being the critic who has to review Warren Zevon's swan song, The Wind, knowing that Zevon is terminally ill? What if it sucks? Nobody wants to be the one to write that review. Luckily, Zevon's final studio album is a tour de force that is a fitting last word in an impressive career.
I've already written quite a bit about Zevon, so I won't recap all of that here. Suffice it to say that I'm a fan of his work, if not obsessively so, and when The Wind was released I was eager to hear it but also a bit nervous that it might not live up to expectations. Or that it'd be maudlin.
In fact, Zevon delivers a healthy mix of irreverent tunes and touching songs that could really only be written by a man who knows his time is short.
"Dirty Life and Times" is a serving of both. Zevon's voice is a little rougher for wear, but still retains its charm and warmth, and is unmistakably his. The music on this one is bar-band sloppy, but also charming and memorable. The guitar on this one lives in the space between blues, country, and classic rock – which is to say it's as good for the ears as a Toll House cookie.
It's a slightly chaotic slide downhill from there to "Disorder in the House" which features Bruce Springsteen on backing vocals and guitar, and Jim Keltner on drums. One of my favorite lyrics on the album "even the Lhasa Apso seems to be ashamed." This one's just pure fun.
Gears shift a bit for "Knockin' on Heaven's Door." Yes, that one. This one calls to mind Lynyrd Skynyrd more than Bob Dylan. It's a fine cover, and not a bit weepy.
"She's Too Good for Me," is an acoustic ballad that's raw and tender. This one's sparse and simple, but still deeply satisfying.
Blues-tinged and somber, "Prison Grove" has some down-home slide guitar and a nice chorus. Zevon's voice sounds a little more robust here, but still as gravelly as ever. He's also not straining too much on this one, the guitar and chorus is carrying the weight here and that's just fine.
"The Rest of the Night" is back into bar-band mode, which is fitting given the material. "Let's party for the rest of the night" is an anthem for rough living, and why not? Zevon's done his share. This one doesn't demand a great deal of analysis, just go with it.
"Rub Me Raw" might remind you a bit of Joe Walsh. If so, that's because he's bringing the buzz-saw guitar for this one. It's a talking blues number that's just damn fun.
"Please Stay," and "Keep Me in Your Heart" are the ones that will tug at your heartstrings, if you have any. Scratch that, these are the ones that will rip your heart right out. "Please Stay" is a spare song, piano and drums, and Zevon's weary voice with Emmylou Harris contributing backing vocals. And a soft and plaintive saxophone.
Finally, "Keep Me in Your Heart" closes the album. "Shadows are falling and I'm running out of breath, keep me in your heart for a while." If you don't feel a little sting around the tear ducts on that one, you may be clinically dead. Or Dick Cheney. But it's also uplifting and has a damn nice tune. The guitar here reminds me a bit of "In My Life," oddly enough.
Zevon sings "maybe you'll think about me and smile." I expect he was thinking of his friends and family when he wrote this, but it's true of his fans as well. I do smile, when I think about Zevon. The Wind is Zevon going out on his own terms, and it's a comforting last work for his fans, but also worthwhile even for folks who wouldn't have known Zevon from Zappa.