A pleasant surprise...really not too bad at all.
John C. Bowerman | Enola, Pennsylvania United States | 08/31/2007
(4 out of 5 stars)
"I became a fan of Warren Zevon with "Werewolves of London" and "Lawyers, Guns and Money." Thankfully, I decided to did deeper and (for the most part) have been very happy with what I found. Since Zevon's death in 2003 from lung cancer (specifically inoperable mesothelioma), I decided to collect all of his albums on CD (including compilations, Hindu Love Gods, etc.). With my list all but complete, I reluctantly decided to order Wanted Dead or Alive.
Having read all of the reviews (here and elsewhere) and listening to the samples from the 1996 version of the disc, I assumed I'd listen to this disc once and put in on the shelf to commence with the dust collecting. While there is no question that this 10-song collection does not measure-up to Zevon's best work, it was much better than I had been led to believe.
First off, I want to stress that if you are going to buy this album, you should definitely get the 2003 version from Capitol Records. The sound quality is far improved over the 1996 version from One Way Records, Inc. (Who?). When considering this disc from the right perspective, it is a brilliant collection of songs form a great singer/songwriter at the beginning of his career. Listening to this disc feels similar to finding a high school picture from someone who went on to become rich and famous; they look different, but you can still tell it's them. The seeds of Zevon's brilliance are here and while they are starting to sprout, they have not yet bloomed.
01. WANTED DEAD OR ALIVE: One of the better songs on the album. Easy to see in hindsight that this song details the beginnings of the spirt of songs like "Mr. Bad Example" and "Lawyers, Guns and Money" (in terms of content if not musically).
02. HITCHHIKIN' WOMAN: A bluesy number. Not entirely successful.
03. SHE QUIT ME: Emotional ballad that was used (in another form) on the soundtrack from "Midnight Cowboy."
04. CALCUTTA: Great music with an oddly affected vocal. Zevon's trying a little too hard to sound like an old black blues singer!
05. IKO-IKO: WHAT? This song is almost to cheerful and light to be in the Zevon cannon but (like his later cover of Steve Winwood's "Back In The High Life"), it works. I'm not sure how or why, but it does work. It's enjoyable and gives the listener and idea of what it might sound like if WZ ever recorded a children's album!!!
06. TRAVELING IN THE LIGHTNING: Rowdy song with some slighty cheesy reverb and reverse drum effects near the end of the song. All in all, a good early Zevon effort.
07. TULE'S BLUES: Beautiful. Early proof that WZ had an underappreciated skill at writing love ballads. (The title character is Marylin "Tule" Livingston, the mother of Warren's first child, Jordan. Sadly, Tule also died from cancer not long after Zevon).
08. A BULLET FOR RAMONA: A gloomy song in the vein of "Jeannie Needs A Shooter," but without the trademark dark humor and wit.
09. GORILLA: A jungle rave-up that sounds as if the percussion was supplied by restless natives dancing around a fire. Again, great guitar and piano work from WZ. Not one of my favorites, but worth a listen.
10. FIERY EMBLEMS: A fantastic up-tempo instrumental with some great electric guitar work.
In summary, this album is not likely tomake it onto your "heavy rotation" playlist, but it is much better than many give it credit for. If you like hearing an artist in the early stages of development, thant this album is for you. If you are looking for Werewolves-era Zevon, than you are better off picking up the expanded reissue of 1976's "Excitable Boy."