Zevon, Life'll Kill Ya (Artemis Records 2000) - A veteran
hell raiser and rock iconoclast, Warren Zevon returns with Life'll Kill Ya, his first album since
1995. Zevon's new album resembles the last release from Iggy Pop,
in that Zevon is also confronting his creeping mortality. The difference is that Zevon still maintains his sense
of humor, as opposed to Iggy Pop's dour outlook.
Zevon's recording career stretches back to 1970 (though he has long dismissed
that first release). His 1976 self-titled release, followed by 1978's Excitable Boy established
him as a feature member of the L.A. mafia, working with such stalwarts as Jackson Browne, Don
Henley, Glenn Frey, Stevie Nicks, and Lindsey Buckingham.
Linda Ronstadt picked up on Zevon's songwriting talent,
recording a number of his tracks, including "Hasten Down the Wind" and "Poor, Poor Pitiful Me."
And in the songwriting category, my money still lands on the underappreciated "Mohammed's Radio" and
"The French Inhaler," a devastating ditty with a dumb title.
the 80s, Zevon worked with REM on Hindu Love Gods, followed by an "unplugged" release
from 1993, Learning to Flinch, that deserved wider attention.
Life'll Kill Ya shows that Zevon can still balance between the sublime and the silly, poking fun
at life while also exposing the unpleasant underbelly that lies beneath the surface.
The core band features Zevon on vocals, guitars, and keyboards, along with long-time allies Jorge Calderon
on bass guitar and Winston Watson on drums and percussion. Also appearing are Chuck Profit
(guitar on "For My Next Trick, I'll Need a Volunteer") and Jimmy Ryan on mandolin
on one song. Add to the fold producers Paul Colderie and Shawn Slade, whose credits
include Radiohead and Hole.
says that the basic tracks were recorded as demos in his home studio in Los Angeles. Explains Zevon, "I always
find that by adding Jorge and Winston later, it's too late for them the change the bizarre course my ideas have
Songs like "Porcelain Monkey," "I Was in the House (When the House Burned Down)," and "Dirty
Little Religion" may not be hummable melodies, but they will more than exercise your brain. And one of the
highlights of the album is a cover of Steve Winwood's
"Back in the High Life Again," which Zevon delivers with understated elegance.
Zevon adds that "I Was in the House (When the House Burned Down)" was originally written for David
Crosby, who said, "Why don't you do something useful for a change and write a song for me?"
"My Shit's Fucked Up" is a blunt but tongue-in-cheek look at getting older. Says Zevon, "Now that
the hearse is at the curb, I'm laughing to keep from crying. Before this album, I had been in a semi-retirement
mode. But as the Tao says, wise men like being old and fucked up."
Will you rush back to Life'll Kill You? Probably not. But it's a solid piece from one of the better
L.A. songwriters from the last 25 years.
Nadine, Downtown, Saturday (Undertow 1999) - Nadine is a three-piece outfit
hailing from St. Louis that purveys alternative country. With influences of Neil Young, the Jayhawks, and Wilco,
Downtown, Saturday has
a solid sound.
consists of Adam Reichmann
on vocals and guitar, Steve Rauner
on guitars and organ, and Todd Schnitzer
on bass, drums, and piano. Nadine recorded their first album, Back
to My Senses, in 1996 when they transformed their St. Louis house
into a recording studio.
Downtown, Saturday followed
when fellow musicians Mark Ray
and Marc Chechik invited
Nadine to share their makeshift studio: a practice room and small collection of recording gear.
an abandoned office space in one of St. Louis' many old factory warehouse/buildings, the "studio" had
pirated electricity and no heating or cooling. After working on the album for a year, the band raised enough money
to move into a new studio space, where they finished Downtown, Saturday in late 1998.
In discussing the recording process, Reichmann says, "We don't like recording studios. They're expensive and
stale. It's much better for us to record where we're comfortable, which is a great trend in music these days."
In its best moments, Downtown, Saturday
rocks with a Crazy Horse
intensity on tracks like "Out on A Limb." And "Ready to Go" will instantly bring the Jayhawks to mind, with its melody-based sound.
tracks, such as "Shelter" and "Whenever You Are Around" fall into that Wilco/Son Volt depressing
version of alternative country, where the songs are all mournful, and redemption lies far in the distance.
Nadine seems comfortable with its niche, explaining "every band has its own signposts and its own level of
delusion to think that they're doing something special. So you just have to please yourself and hope you're not
too wacked out."
And Nadine has
a good internal barometer, recognizing the strength of "Out on A Limb." Says the band, "When we
recorded the song, it was a really hot, muggy St. Louis afternoon, and we were rockin' out like pigs."
And when the band juiced up "Ready To Go," "Steve said to Adam via the talk-back, 'On fire, dude.'
Adam thought he was really nailing the part, but it turns out Steve was referring to a candle in the control room
that had burned down to the bottom - our monitor speaker was literally on fire!"
I like Nadine, but wish there were a little more of that fire on the album. Better production assistance would
help this promising band.
- Randy Krbechek © 2000
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