December 4, 1996
Warren Zevon, I'll Sleep When I'm Dead (An Anthology) (Rhino/Elektra 1996) - Warren Zevon, one of the most respected song writers to emerge from Los Angeles in 1970s, seemingly disappeared after the chart-topping success of 1978's, Excitable Boy. I'll Sleep When I'm Dead, a two-disc, 44-song collection will convince you that Zevon's talents haven't dried up during the last two decades.
Warren Zevon (now age 49) got his musical start in the early 70s as a member of Phil and Don Everly's band. In 1976, Zevon released his self-titled debut album, which featured such classic originals as "Hasten Down the Wind" and "Poor, Poor, Pitiful Me" (both later covered by Linda Ronstadt) and "Carmelita."
The follow-up release, Excitable Boy, added such Zevon cult favorites as "Werewolves of London" (which was recorded with John McVie and Mick Fleetwood on bass and drums), and "Roland the Headless Thompson Gunner."
The early 80s found Zevon exploring conspiracy-oriented politics (not surprisingly, one of his good friends is journalist Hunter Thompson) on such albums as 1982's The Envoy (the "Hula Hula Boys," a funky, Hawaiian-tinged cut, is one of the best tracks from this album). While the general population may have thought that Warren's songwriting was tending toward extremes, Col. Oliver North was obviously digging this material.
By the end of the 80s, Zevon made peace with himself, as reflected in such solid cuts as "Things To Do In Denver When You're Dead," the sweet ballad, "Searching For a Heart," and the playful "Mr. Bad Example" (featuring the late Jeff Porcaro on drums).
Also included are several selections from Zevon's 1993 live acoustic album, Learning to Flinch, including the underrated "The French Inhaler" (though I prefer the 1976 studio version, with its backing vocals by Glenn Frey and Don Henley; likewise, the studio version of "Mohammed's Radio," with backing vocals by Lindsey Buckingham & Stevie Nicks, is far superior to the live version taken from 1980's, Stand in the Fire).
For Zevon fans, I'll Sleep When I'm Dead is a great collection, as Rhino secured cooperation from all of his labels. If you haven't heard from Warren Zevon in a while, consider I'll Sleep When I'm Dead; it'll remind you that the chap who wrote "Boom Boom Mancini" hasn't disappeared.
Mandy Barnett, Mandy Barnett (Asylum 1996) -- It's tempting to call Mandy Barnett a country newcomer, because she's only 20 years old. But having performed professionally since age 13, Barnett has years of experience behind her. And that experience shines through on Mandy Barnett, a sprightly, 33-minute set.
While Mandy Barnett was both the secretary of her Future Farmers of America chapter and Homecoming Queen, her dreams were far bigger than the small town she called home. She started singing for audiences at an early age, and won the "Best Country Act" contest at Dollywood when she was only ten.
After moving to Nashville with her mother, Mandy started working around Music City, and got a weekly gig on Ernest Tubb's "Midnight Jamboree" - the same show that helped launch Loretta Lynn three decades earlier.
While waiting for her break, Mandy paid her dues by starring in "Always...Patsy Cline" at the Ryman Auditorium. Playing Patsy four nights a week, 26 weeks a year for two years taught Barnett another valuable lesson about her music. "I realized how important it is to be yourself, especially musically," she says with conviction. "That's what Patsy was, that's what made her music so special."
Mandy continues. "I've worked for ten years trying to figure out who I am and what I should do. That's half my life. Now that I've released my first album, you can bet I'm serious about it."
The ten songs on Mandy Barnett include tracks by such acclaimed songwriters as Jim Lauderdale, Rodney Crowell, Willie Nelson, and Kelly Willis. From the bouncy "Maybe" to the classic "Three Days" (in which, frankly, Barnett's voice doesn't match up to Cline's) to the perky "Now That's All Right With Me," Mandy has a real talent. Also featured are such slower ballads as "What's Good For You."
Barnett has the chops and the talent to make a big splash. Keep your eye on this young woman.
Cake, Fashion Nugget (Capricorn 1996) - As a follow up to their self-produced debut, Motorcade of Generosity, Sacramento's favorite sons seek to build on their success. The album is selling well; unfortunately, the alterna-rock results aren't cohesive.
The five-man Cake has its tongue planted firmly in cheek. Their delicious irony, as well as singer John McCiea's deadpan delivery, create their camp charm. Sure, there are some delights on Nuggets, such as "Perhaps, Perhaps, Perhaps", and a cover of Gloria Gaynor's disco hit, "I Will Survive."
But the studio doesn't really help Cake. Thus, some tracks meander, and their lounge efforts (such as "Frank Sinatra") don't make it. On the other hand, Cake features some solid musicians, as evidenced on pseudo-rocker, "Nugget" (with its memorable chorus, "Shut the F*ck Up!)" Consider Fashion Nugget to be part of a dreaded sophomore slump - and don't overlook Cake.
Kevin Salem, Glimmer (Roadrunner 1996) - Boston-based guitarist Kevin Salem, who has played with such bands as Dumptruck and Freedy Johnston, has released his second album, the follow-up to 1995's, Soma City. Salem recent brush with death (due to a bout of Lyme's Disease) has profoundly influenced him. With its mix of crunching guitars, pop swirls and even a little country, Glimmer is an ample showcase for this talented six-stringer.
Robert Bradley, Blackwater Surprise (RCA 1996) - Blind musician Robert Bradley, a native of Detroit, inherits the Otis Redding/Ted Hawkins street-busker-and-blues-balladeer mantle with ease. While Blackwater Surprise strikes me as somewhat overproduced (I can't imagine Bradley having such a homogenized sound outside the studio), he still has an earnest quality. More of a party animal than the late Ted Hawkins, Bradley nevertheless retains an earnest streak. Here's a voice that has been waiting to be heard for many years.
-- Randy Krbechek
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