by Warren Zevon



Warren Zevon traveled in the same musical circles as the L.A. Mellow Mafia crowd of the 1970s, and folks like Jackson Browne, Don Henley, Glenn Frey, Linda Ronstadt and Lindsey Buckingham often popped up on his albums as guests and musical collaborators. But in terms of style and intent, Zevon's songs were many miles away from such contemporaries, with a bleak but witty world view that owed more to Nathanael West or Dashiell Hammett than the Eagles, and a melodic style that was more sophisticated and adventurous than most folks in mainstream rock & roll. It's tempting to wonder what Zevon's earlier albums would be like if one were to strip off the glossy veneer of the polished production and star-studded backing, and Preludes reveals how some of his best songs play under leaner, more concise circumstances. Preludes was compiled by Zevon's son Jordan Zevon from a cache of demo tapes discovered after Warren's death; while no details on recording dates or personnel for the sessions survived, most of the material consists either unreleased tunes or songs that would later appear on Warren Zevon or Excitable Boy (one even dates back to his misbegotten debut album, 1969's Wanted Dead or Alive), though in considerably more economical form. Most of the tracks on Preludes feature Zevon with minimal accompaniment (often just his guitar or piano with one or two additional musicians), and even the tracks with a full band (such as "Werewolves of London," "Desperados Under the Eaves" and "Poor Poor Pitiful Me") are sharper and funkier than the versions fans know best. These alternate takes often reveal a tighter and more potent emotional focus than the "official" versions, and some include different lyrics or musical structures in their rough draft form. Zevon's vocals truly shine on this set, and demonstrate an emotional intelligence that's deeply affecting despite the rougher textures of the recordings, and a number of the unreleased songs are fine additions to his repertoire, especially "Studebaker," "Stop Rainin' Lord" and "The Rosarita Beach Café," any of which would have been worthy additions to Zevon's early studio albums. This package also includes an interview disc in which Zevon discusses his work (in particular his 2000 album Life'll Kill Ya) with Jody Denberg; Denberg's questions aren't always insightful and Zevon sometimes sounds a bit impatient with him, but he also offers some fascinating insights on his working method and his attitude about his music and career, and his dark wit is always welcome. While most collections of demo tapes offer a perspective on an artist's recording process and little else, Preludes casts some of Warren Zevon's best songs in a new and unfamiliar light, and they reveal some welcome new details in the process; this collection is a labor of love that fans of Zevon's work will revel in.

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