Enjoy Every Sandwich - The Songs Of Warren Zevon
Artemis Records, 2004
REVIEW BY: Jason Warburg
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 02/02/2005
Two years ago I used this space to verbally bludgeon an album that my friend Dave had given me for Christmas. In addition to being a good sport and a great friend, Dave is nothing if not persistent. Thus, another Yule, another attempt to expand my musical horizons. One of the many things Dave and I have in common is an appreciation for good writing in whatever form we discover it. In the music world, that train of thought carries you straight to the catalogue of the late, great Warren Zevon.
Zevon died last year of lung cancer, another creative voice silenced too young. What he left behind is a career's worth of witty, insightful, all-too-human songs, full of sharply imagined characters, clever twists and eccentric asides. The very diversity of his ideas and purity of his vision kept him on the fringes of the mainstream for his entire career, yet he was justly revered by an entire generation of fellow songwriters
Rarely has an artist's body of work been more suited for this sort of disc, a 14-song set of covers lovingly assembled by his family, friends and admirers. And rarely have I heard one that's more successful in both capturing and honoring the (free) spirit of the original artist.
The disc almost has to start off with an Eagle -- Zevon was, after all, one of the acts most identified with the late '70s LA rock scene -- and Don Henley steps up to the plate like the pro he is to deliver "Searching For A Heart." (Although frankly, that's only half a compliment, since Henley has in his later years become such a predictably bland singer of ballads, a surprising turn for a guy who's always fostered a bit of a rebel image.)
Another LA pal comes along soon, as Jackson Browne absolutely nails "Poor Poor Pitiful Me," one of Zevon's more well-known if potentially misunderstood tunes. I get the feeling most of the public doesn't realize it's a bitingly satirical piece skewering the perpetual victims we all know (and try to avoid) in our lives. Regardless, Browne gets the self-oblivious tone just right, with Bonnie Raitt contributing some tasty slide and warm harmonies.
My favorite parts of this album, though, were the surprises it had in store. I like the Wallflowers -- hell, I respect any second-generation rock star who doesn't make a fool of him or herself at it -- but Jakob Dylan and company's cover of "Lawyers, Guns & Money" is a revelation, full of an intensity and bravado that they've only intermittently brought to their own material. When Jakob audibles "Warren get me out of this" mid-song, it gives me chills. A major highlight.
Another highlight comes from a most unlikely source. Let's face it, it would take balls for anybody but Zevon to try to sing "Werewolves Of London" -- it's kinda like pulling "Freebird" on a Lynyrd Skynyrd tribute album. But an actor? A big-name, nothing-to-win-and-everything-to-lose A-list Hollywood star? I was ready to cringe my way through, and ended up singing along to the fearless, totally committed performance that Adam Sandler delivers on "Werewolves." Counting Spanglish, that makes two startlingly good out-of-left-field performances for ol' Happy Gilmore in '04. Nice work if you can get it.
Other notables include Pete Yorn's retro-rocking version of "Splendid Isolation" (a song anyone who's ever been a loner can relate to); Bruce Springsteen's respectful take on the dizzyingly-well-rhymed "My Ride's Here"; Steve Earle's reliably gritty "Reconsider Me"; and the Pixies' grinding reimagination of the aptly-titled "Ain't That Pretty At All."
The most moving moments of the album, though come from those who were closest to Zevon himself in life. Halfway through, Zevon's son Jordan (who co-produced this album) pulls a neglected nugget out of his dad's songbook and offers an absolutely spot-on performance of the hard-luck road song "Studebaker." And Jorge Calderon, Jordan's co-producer here and Warren's collaborator in recent years, finishes the album off with a gentle, stately take on one of the most moving songs from Zevon's farewell album The Wind, "Keep Me In Your Heart."
Are there any real misfires on this disc? Well, let's just say in the category of Hollywood stars slumming on disc, Billy Bob Thornton comes in a get-out-the-telescope distant second to the aforementioned Mr. Sandler. (If I wanted to listen to Bob Dylan with laryngitis…) As for the actual contribution here from Dylan the elder, while it's a nice gesture to have the dean of living American songwriters represented here, after 30 years of listening I still can't stand this amazing writer's mumbly rasp of a voice.
My advice regarding Enjoy Every Sandwich is to be ready to hit skip a couple of times, but not to let that stop you from picking up this very worthy tribute to one of the great ones. Rest easy, Warren.