Wednesday, 17 February 2016

"Excitable Boy" by WARREN ZEVON (2007 Asylum/Rhino 'Expanded' CD Remaster) - A Review by Mark Barry...

"...Rub The Pot Roast All Over His Chest..." 

Like most Warren Zevon fans - I bought the March 2010 "Original Album Series" 5CD Mini Box Set to have the albums "Warren Zevon" (1976) and "Bad Luck Streak In Dancing School" (1980) on some form of CD. But despite its wickedly good content and cheap price – I was disappointed to find that all five titles are non-remasters - especially given that Rhino did stunning audio versions of "Excitable Boy" (1978), "Stand In The Fire (Live)" (1981) and "The Envoy" (1982) way back in 2007 and could have used those (all three were first-time-on-CD Expanded Remasters).

So as I own them I thought it time to return to my fave – the spiked, tender and yet wickedly contemporary "Excitable Boy". And rubbing pot roast all over my chest is exactly how a feel. What a winner this 2007 single disc CD reissue is. Here are the wet-haired two-fanged details...

UK and USA released late March 2007 – "Excitable Boy" by WARREN ZEVON on Asylum/Rhino 8122-79997-7 (Barcode 081227999773) is an 'Expanded' CD Remaster with Four Bonus Tracks and play out as follows (41:59 minutes):

1. Johnny Strikes up The Band
2. Roland The Headless Thompson Gunner
3. Excitable Boy
4. Werewolves Of London
5. Accidentally Like A Martyr
6. Nightime In The Switching Yard [Side 2]
7. Veracruz
8. Tenderness On The Block
9. Lawyers, Guns And Money
Tracks 1 to 9 are his 2nd album "Excitable Boy" – released 24 January 1978 in the USA on Asylum 6E-118 and March 1978 in the UK on Asylum K 53073. It peaked at No. 8 in February 1978 on the US album charts – but didn’t chart in the UK - Singer Jackson Browne and Guitarist Waddy Wachtel Produced.

10. I Need A Truck (Outtake)
11. Werewolves Of London (Alternate Version)
12. Tule's Blues (Solo Piano Version)
14. Frozen Notes (Strings Version)

The 20-page booklet is a pleasingly substantive affair – DAVID FRICKE's superb liner notes making much of Jackson Browne's friendship and musical patronage of Zevon who in 1975 was a complete unknown. Browne had already three charted US albums under his belt "Jackson Browne - aka "Saturate Before Use" (1972), "For Everyman" (1973) and the stunning "Late For The Sky" (1974) – so when he announced at a September 1975 Philly gig that this Warren Zevon friend of his was going to be 'big news' – people took notice and cheered (Browne then played several of Warren's songs including an early version of "Werewolves Of London"). Some years later the album "Excitable Boy" containing that winning song both sat pretty on the American charts. The 'empty shell-casings of bullets' and the 'gun on a dinner plate' photos that made up the inner US sleeve are reproduced on Pages 11 and 20 as are the lyrics to the album tracks (oddly not the bonus cuts). The song-by-song musician credits show his core band as – WARREN ZEVON on Piano, Guitars and all Lead Vocals, WADDY WACHTEL on Guitars and Vocals, LELAND SKLAR on Bass and RUSSELL KUNKEL on Drums with Guests (discussed below). There's even an advert for the Book "I'll Sleep When I'm Dead: The Dirty Life And Times Of Warren Zevon" by Crystal Zevon...

But the really big news for fans is the DAN HERSCH and BILL INGLOT Remaster. The audio on this sucker kicks you in the nuts – and its not loudness for the sake it. Every track is improved - given muscle and clarity - and the listen is so much better for it right across the board (this Expanded Edition also features four tasty Previously Unreleased Bonus Tracks dropped from the "Original Album Series" Box Set version).

Asylum launched three singles around the album in the UK – "Werewolves Of London" b/w "Tenderness On The Block" (February 1978, Asylum K 13111) – "Nighttime In The Switching Yard" b/w "Roland The Headless Thompson Gunner" (May 1978, Asylum K 13124) and finally "Excitable Boy" b/w "Veracruz" (October 1978, Asylum K 13140) – none charted. In the USA they faired better when "Werewolves Of London" lead the charge as the album's debut 45 with "Roland The Headless Thompson Gunner" on the flipside (Asylum E-45472). It rose to a respectable No. 21 on their pop charts in May 1978 giving the album a sustained bout of sales long after its February 1978 placing. They also issued "Lawyers, Guns And Money" with "Veracruz" on the B-side in May 1978 (Asylum E-45498) - but like "Nighttime In The Switching Yard" b/w "Johnny Strikes Up The Band" in October 1978 on Asylum E-45526 – neither charted.

The "Excitable Boy" album is a sensation really. All the potential that had shown up on his guest-heavy 1976 self-titled Asylum Records debut "Warren Zevon" came screaming to fruition on record number two. Admittedly at 31:49 minutes and with only 9 songs – it wasn't exactly a musical War & Peace. But there isn't a bad track on "Excitable Boy" and many of these quirky songs would become synonymous with Zevon and beloved by fans. And it didn't take a Mensa membership card to hear that beneath all that humour and blood and sex lurked the niggling ongoing aspects of his zigzag personality peeking through the lyrics like a cut he couldn’t plaster – his addictions to alcohol and pills that would take years to beat...

The bloodthirsty and kooky "Werewolves Of London" features Mick Fleetwood and John McVie of Fleetwood Mac on Drums and Bass while Linda Ronstadt and Jennifer Warnes lend backing vocals to the giddily macabre "Excitable Boy" with Waddy Wachtel chopping that axe and sessionman Jim Horn blowing a mean Saxophone. Karla Bonoff does lovely Harmony Vocals on "Accidentally Like A Martyr" while his long-time musical cohort Jorge Calderon plays Spanish Guitar on the hurting "Veracruz". Waddy Wachtel's Acoustic guitar work makes the gorgeous "Tenderness On The Block" - a song that always makes me think of our growing teenagers who aren't kids anymore (she's all grown up – she has a young man waiting). And who doesn't laugh at the touch-and-go 'gambling in Havana' wit of "Lawyers, Guns And Money" where the you-know-what has unceremoniously hit the fan...(send help Daddy please). There's an ache too in "Accidentally Like A Martyr" where "...the hurt gets worse and the heart gets harder..." But for me and second-only to the lovely "Tenderness..." is one of the album's true hidden nuggets - the hard-core Talking Heads guitar-funk of "Nighttime In The Switching Yard" – a song I used to constantly put on 70ts Fest CDR's when I worked at Reckless Records in Soho's Berwick Street. Without fail its funky-as-gnat's-underpants rhythms would bring excited kids to the counter – Who the Hell is this?

The Bonus Tracks are typically eclectic – the entirely Acapella "I Need A Truck" has him singing alone into an echoed microphone for less than a minute about trucks to haul his guns, his bad thoughts, Percocet tablets and Gin. Any version of "Werewolves Of London" is good news by me - and the 3:42 minute Alternate is just as quirky and rocking as the finished article. It doesn't say who's playing the Guitar – sounds like Wachtel – and the Bass is more pronounced too. It's like they’re almost there but still working out the kinks (and that 'ah ooooh' howl at the end is a hoot). "Tule's Blues" is probably the real prize here – a ballad named after his 1st wife about a relationship falling apart. It's a piano led melancholic thing – lovely and sad at the same time with lyrics like "...I hear a child's voice...does he ask if I'll be coming home soon..." The orchestral strings in "Frozen Notes" add a huge poignancy to another hurting song.

Zevon succumbed to Cancer in September 2003 aged only 56 – defiant, whimsical and thoughtful to the end. And as I replay the truly gorgeous and deeply wise "Tenderness On The Block" - I'm tearful. I for one am glad that this criminally overlooked CD only hammers home Warren Zevon's undeniable lifeforce and the rich legacy of his music. Be with the Boogie Angels you hard-knocks traveller...

This review is part of my SOUNDS GOOD Music Book Series. One of those titles is CLASSIC 1970s ROCK - an E-Book with over 250 entries and 2100 e-Pages - purchase on Amazon and search any artist or song (click the link below). Huge amounts of info taken directly from the discs (no cut and paste crap). 

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Spines of Exceptional CD Remasters

Spines of Exceptional CD Remasters

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