Warren Zevon's final, valedictory album provides ultimate proof that those of us who believed him to be one of the greatest songwriters of his generation were not just blowing smoke. In a field increasingly inhabited by moral and intellectual pygmies, his was a singular, idiosyncratic voice that could cut through cant and bullshit with a single, razoring line. That he would almost always manage to do so with a wry humour makes his achievement all the more remarkable, and our loss all the greater. This was a man, let's not forget, whose own comment on the inoperable lung cancer which took his life last Sunday was, "I'm OK with it, but it'll be a drag if I don't make it till the next James Bond movie comes out". How many of us, in similar circumstances, could so drolly downplay our own demise?
You don't have to search far on The Wind for one of Zevon's lyrical zingers. It's right there, the first line of the first song, "Dirty Life & Times": "Some days I feel like my shadow's casting me". What an image! But, lest we take too earnest an attitude towards the song - a typically self-deprecating mulling-over of his own shortcomings - he manages before its conclusion to slip in one of his more risky one-liners, admitting, "I'm looking for a woman with low self-esteem".
With Ry Cooder's astringent guitar pushing it along, and Dwight Yoakam and Billy Bob Thornton providing harmonies, it's a fine opener that sets out the album's store, roughly equally stocked with feisty rockers like "The Rest of the Night" and "Disorder in the House" - the latter featuring Zevon and Springsteen duetting on a rollicking indictment of American politics - and several more moving numbers musing upon his terminal situation, such as the heartbreaking "Keep Me In Your Heart" and "Please Stay".
The esteem in which Zevon was held by his peers is made apparent by the regiments of guest artists crowding these 11 tracks, among their number Emmylou Harris, Jackson Browne, David Lindley, Tom Petty, Joe Walsh and several Eagles. The track "Prison Grove" alone features both Cooder, Lindley and Jorge Calderon on guitars, and a backing choir of Browne, Billy Bob, Bruce, T-Bone Burnett and Warren's son Jordan; elsewhere, Gil Bernal's blue tenor sax solo brings an appropriately mournful tone to "Please Stay", the track which furnishes the album's title: "Will you stay with me till the end/ When there's nothing left but you and me and the wind/ We'll never know until we try/ To find the other side of goodbye".
An irreplaceable talent at the peak of his powers.
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