Warren Zevon died on September 7th, 2003. However, he left a wonderful legacy of colorful music. There are plenty of great albums that comprise that legacy (Warren Zevon, Excitable Boy, Sentimental Hygiene, and the R.E.M.-aided Hindu Love Gods project), but the one I return to time and time again is the 1989 Virgin records release, Transverse City.
Transverse City marks the second release from a newly sober Mr. Zevon. It was also his second release on Virgin records. Like its fantastic star-studded predecessor, 1987’s Sentimental Hygiene, Zevon was in an innovative mood and found willing co-conspirators in producers Duncan Aldrich and Andy Slater. Together they produced an contemporary-sounding album that still holds up today. Zevon, an accomplished piano player, also contributed a good amount of guitar and enlisted his touring drummer and Little Feat cofounder Richie Hayward and session-ace bassist Bob Glaub to round out the core of the studio bands. Zevon also called on longtime pals J.D. Souther and Don Henley to supply harmony vocals.
Zevon gave the core musicians fantastic songs, and then brought in new and old friends for overdubs. Jerry Gracia contributes an appropriately trippy guitar lead and solo to the opening/title song. Additionally, jazz bassist John Patitucci provides a fluid and melodic center to the song’s theme of chaos and isolation. Zevon then kicks the listener while he’s down with the song “Run Straight Down.” This time, Pink Floyd’s David Gilmour delivers one of his best guitar solos in decades while Zevon sings a counterpoint to Souther and Henley’s bleakly effective background vocals. No, it ain’t that pretty at all.
Most writers would take the opportunity to give the listener something light if not upbeat at this point. Not Zevon. While the next song, “The Long Arm of The Law” does have a manic pace, the tale of the police state controlled by an NSA-like entity is hardly cheery. Still it is great music. Zevon supplies a nasty electric guitar lead, while guest pianist Chick Corea earns his pay with an amazing solo. “They Moved The Moon” provides a short reprieve from the frantic pace but then the listener is thrust deeper into decadence with an ode to Michael Jackson, the song “Splendid Isolation” — “Lock the gates Goofy, take my hand…”
Old friend Neil Young reprises his role from the Hygiene album on “Gridlock,” Zevon’s “appreciation” of L.A. traffic, and David Lindley provides sublime lap steel guitar and … ah …unique vocal stylings to Zevon’s appropriately-titled homage to commercialism, “Down In The Mall.” Just when you’re ready for an old-fashioned love song, Zevon kicks you in the nuts with “Nobody’s In Love This Year.” The song does have a jazzy muted trumpet solo by Mark Isham, so you can at least have a slim glimmer of hope that the world isn’t total shit.
On second (or is that third?) thought, maybe I’ll celebrate Warren Zevon’s birthday today (January 24) with one of his happy songs … if I can find one.
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