Warren Zevon: Preludes - Rare and Unreleased Recordings

Paints a fuller portrait of a talent who remains underrated despite it all.

Warren Zevon

Preludes - Rare and Unreleased Recordings

Label: Ammal
US Release Date: 2007-05-01
UK Release Date: 2007-05-01

You don't have to be terribly familiar with the works of Warren Zevon to surmise that he was the kind of guy to whom the idea of a series of posthumous closet-cleaning releases would have seemed pointless and idiotic, an eye-roll-worthy annoyance, a stupid trick at the bar. Even a casual fan could theorize that the man who wrote acerbic, near-freeze-dried death-related songs like "Roland the Headless Thompson Gunner" and "I'll Sleep When I'm Dead" would have met the idea of such a suggestion with a smack to the face, or, if you were lucky, a mumbled joke to his tablemates at your expense.

Happily for Zevon, who succumbed in 2003 to a form of lung cancer, this is no such project. Preludes isn't the product of label guys sniffing around Zevon's vaults to fulfill some second-quarter sales projections, or, apologies to Johnny Cash and Ray Charles, to spot-capitalize on the novelty of his fresh corpse (waiting four years after Zevon's death to release such a record lends the project extra weight and lessens the uncomfortable post-mortem cash-in vibe considerably, although it is being released around the same time as a biography by Zevon's wife, Crystal).

Rather, Preludes was assembled by Zevon's son Jordan, who discovered the tracks herein in one of Zevon's old storage spaces -- more romantically (the story goes anyway), he found them in a suitcase full of old reel-to-reel tapes, a treasure haul that yielded six CDs and 126 songs, all of which hailed from before 1976. Tellingly, there were no accompanying notes.

Just 16 of those demos made it to Preludes, and of those, only six are unreleased compositions, and all are pretty damned good, rosy nostalgia or not. (Although the nostalgia counts for more than you might think: "Ain't life strange, ain't it funny," sings the ghost of Zevon in the record's first notes, and even if the song ends up being a piano weeper starring whiskey and cigarettes and sidewalks and abject loneliness, of course, it's impossible to not be chilled by the introduction.)

Zevon fans should be highly pleased with the volume of curious here: There's a loose, drinky-sounding, is-this-thing-on? take on "Werewolves of London", that sports a reggae twist and a line from "Hamlet" for some reason; a dirty-blues riff "Join Me in L.A." that's just Zevon, guitar, harp and attitude; a soft, rough "Hasten Down The Wind" whose unpolished sound lends its story extra heartbrokenness; a "Tule's Blues" that finds Zevon going all juke-joint on the keys; a 3 a.m. house-party take on "Poor Poor Pitiful Me" and a piano-only "Studebaker" whose piano jumps off even the lo-fi recording.

Preludes is heavy on material from that last category; it uses the considerable emotional weight of its backstory to successfully throw light on the lesser-known of Zevon's persona; not the arch pirate behind "Lawyers Guns and Money" but the piano balladeer who evidently spent more time than we might have suspected absorbing Tom Waits and Billy Joel (a second bonus disc comprises a 2000 interview and a smattering of live performances, including a heartbreaking-in-retrospect version of "Don't Let Us Get Sick" and a funny tale about an encounter with Joel that compelled him to -- wait for it -- temporarily abandon the piano.)

Preludes does precisely what it sets out to do -- paint a fuller portrait of a talent who remains underrated despite it all. Once again we can assume that Zevon's not the kind of guy who would want people thumbing through his notebooks. But he also can't be the kind of guy who kept only one of these crates lying around.





In 'Wandering Dixie', Discovering the Jewish South Is Part of Discovering Self

Sue Eisenfeld's Wandering Dixie is not only a collection of dispatches from the lost Jewish South but also a journey of self-discovery.


Bill Withers and the Curse of the Black Genius

"Lean on Me" singer-songwriter Bill Withers was the voice of morality in an industry without honor. It's amazing he lasted this long.


Jeff Baena Explores the Intensity of Mental Illness in His Mystery, 'Horse Girl'

Co-writer and star Alison Brie's unreliable narrator in Jeff Baena's Horse Girl makes for a compelling story about spiraling into mental illness.


Pokey LaFarge Hits 'Rock Bottom' on His Way Up

Americana's Pokey LaFarge performs music in front of an audience as a way of conquering his personal demons on Rock Bottom.


Joni Mitchell's 'Shine' Is More Timely and Apt Than Ever

Joni Mitchell's 2007 eco-nightmare opus, Shine is more timely and apt than ever, and it's out on vinyl for the first time.


'Live at Carnegie Hall' Captures Bill Withers at His Grittiest and Most Introspective

Bill Withers' Live at Carnegie Hall manages to feel both exceptionally funky and like a new level of grown-up pop music for its time.


Dual Identities and the Iranian Diaspora: Sepehr Debuts 'Shaytoon'

Electronic producer Sepehr discusses his debut album releasing Friday, sparing no detail on life in the Iranian diaspora, the experiences of being raised by ABBA-loving Persian rug traders, and the illegal music stores that still litter modern Iran.


From the Enterprise to the Discovery: The Decline and Fall of Utopian Technology and the Liberal Dream

The technology and liberalism of recent series such as Star Trek: Discovery, Star Trek: Picard, and the latest Doctor Who series have more in common with Harry Potter's childish wand-waving than Gene Roddenberry's original techno-utopian dream.


The 50 Best Post-Punk Albums Ever: Part 2, The B-52's to Magazine

This week we are celebrating the best post-punk albums of all-time and today we have part two with the Cure, Mission of Burma, the B-52's and more.


Emily Keener's "Boats" Examines Our Most Treasured Relationships (premiere)

Folk artist Emily Keener's "Boats" offers a warm look back on the road traveled so far—a heartening reflection for our troubled times.


Paul Weller - "Earth Beat" (Singles Going Steady)

Paul Weller's singular modes as a soul man, guitar hero, and techno devotee converge into a blissful jam about hope for the earth on "Earth Beat".


On Point and Click Adventure Games with Creator Joel Staaf Hästö

Point and click adventure games, says Kathy Rain and Whispers of a Machine creator Joel Staaf Hästö, hit a "sweet spot" between puzzles that exercise logical thinking and stories that stimulate emotions.


The 50 Best Post-Punk Albums Ever: Part 1, Gang of Four to the Birthday Party

If we must #quarantine, at least give us some post-punk. This week we are revisiting the best post-punk albums of all-time and we kick things off with Gang of Four, Public Image Ltd., Throbbing Gristle, and more.


Alison Chesley Toils in Human and Musical Connectivity on Helen Money's 'Atomic'

Chicago-based cellist, Alison Chesley (a.k.a. Helen Money) creates an utterly riveting listen from beginning to end on Atomic.


That Kid's 'Crush' Is a Glittering Crossroads for E-Boy Music

That Kid's Crush stands out for its immediacy as a collection of light-hearted party music, but the project struggles with facelessness.


Percival Everett's ​​​'Telephone​​​' Offers a Timely Lesson

Telephone provides a case study of a family dynamic shaken by illness, what can be controlled, and what must be accepted.


Dream Pop's Ellis Wants to be 'Born Again'

Ellis' unhappiness serves as armor to protect her from despair on Born Again. It's better to be dejected than psychotic.


Counterbalance No. 10: 'Never Mind the Bollocks, Here's the Sex Pistols'

The Spirit of ’77 abounds as Sex Pistols round out the Top Ten on the Big List. Counterbalance take a cheap holiday in other people’s misery. Right. Now.


'Thor: Ragnarok' Destroys and Discards the Thor Mythos

Taika Waititi's Thor: Ragnarok takes a refreshingly iconoclastic approach to Thor, throwing out the old, bringing in the new, and packaging the story in a colourful, gorgeously trashy aesthetic that perfectly captures the spirit of the comics.


Alps 2 and Harry No Release Eclectic Single "Madness at Toni's Chip Shop in Wishaw" (premiere)

Alps 2 and Harry NoSong's "Madness at Toni's Chip Shop in Wishaw" is a dizzying mix of mangled 2-step rhythms and woozy tranquil electronics.

Collapse Expand Reviews
Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.