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Warren Zevon: The Wind ***
Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Rossiter Drake*

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WARREN ZEVON: The Wind
(Courtesy of The Oakland Tribune)

I'ts almost impossible to separate Warren Zevon's 14th and final album, The Wind, from the morbid circumstances under which it was recorded.

In August 2002, Zevon was diagnosed with mesothelioma, an inoperable and terminal form of lung cancer. With a life expectancy of just a few months, he gathered an all-star crew of industry pals (Bruce Springsteen, Tom Petty, Emmylou Harris, Tommy Shaw) and set to work on his swan song, a collection that misses the snappy hooks and youthful exuberance of his finest efforts (1976's Warren Zevon, 1978's Excitable Boy), but draws emotional resonance from Zevon's candid approach to death and his need to say goodbye.

The album is not obsessed with death or disease -- ironically, Zevon already covered that ground on 2000's glib Life'll Kill Ya -- though it does feature an almost obligatory (though unrevealing) cover of "Knockin on Heaven's Door," complete with vocal accompaniment from Shaw, John Waite and Billy Bob Thornton, that struggles not to seem maudlin.

Elsewhere, Zevon, an artist known for his biting wit and lack of sentimentality, reveals a tender side, recalling past loves ("El Amor De Mi Vida," "She's Too Good For Me") and his struggles against spiritual emptiness ("Numb As a Statue," the bluesy "Rub Me Raw"). And while the barbs he aims at an unforgiving world cut that much deeper, and his paeans to lost romance ring with extra pangs of urgency and regret, Zevon hasn't lost his cynical edge on The Wind.

Repeatedly treated for alcoholism, he describes his self-destructive bent with a wink on "Dirty Life and Times" ("Gets a little lonely, folks, you know what I mean/I'm looking for a woman with low self-esteem/To lay me out and ease my worried mind/While Im winding down my dirty life and times"), making it clear that hell go out with no regrets, his wicked sense of humor intact. And though The Wind is invigorated by the contributions from Springsteen, Thornton and Dwight Yoakam -- Zevon's own voice is understandably frailer than on previous efforts -- the beleaguered singer retains a firm hold on the spotlight, using it to bid fans and friends farewell with a collection that is, at times, endearingly personal, reluctantly melancholy and characteristically droll. -- Rossiter Drake

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