A celebrated rock singer, piano player, and writer with a gift for dramatic, cinematic, and often humorous story-songs, Warren Zevon was born in Chicago in 1947, but primarily raised in California and Arizona, the son of a professional gambler. Warren studied piano as a kid, and played his first L.A. sessions in his late teens. He cut his first sides as half of a duo, then cut a criminally ignored solo album in 1969, and toured with the Everly Brothers band in the early '70s before heading to Spain to take some time off. Meanwhile, Zevon's songs were introduced to millions of rock fans when Linda Ronstadt covered several of them, including "Hasten Down The Wind" and "Poor Poor Pitiful Me." In 1976 Jackson Browne persuaded Warren to record a new album of his own material, and Zevon's eponymous album for Asylum was a hit with critics who hailed his hard-edged sound and lyrical bite. The Top 40 hit single "Werewolves Of London," from the 1978 follow-up Excitable Boy, expanded his cult following to national proportions. Since then, Zevon has recorded a dozen more albums chronicling the adventure of various colorful characters, himself included. In 1996 we relased the Elektra/Rhino 2-CD I'll Sleep When I'm Dead: An Anthology, covering his career up till then. Now we've compiled GENIUS: THE BEST OF WARREN ZEVON, the definitive single-CD survey of Zevon's very best work up through the present-22 songs that earned him rock 'n' roll notoriety and the respect of his peers. On the evidence of this 22-track career overview, it's tempting to call Warren Zevon's oeuvre a monument of pop-music dichotomy. But that assessment would sorely shortchange Zevon's vast catalog of contradictions: the sentimental songwriter ("Hasten Down the Wind") with a nihilistic heart of darkness who makes the likes of Jello Biafra seem more like Raffi by comparison; the shrewd, successful tunesmith nonetheless laboring in service of vintage psycho-whack like "Roland the Headless Thompson Gunner," "Excitable Boy," and "Werewolves of London"; a man who consorted with Jackson Browne, Linda Ronstadt, and R.E.M. ("Boom Boom Mancini") and yet who still cheated the devil of his soul; a satirist with the keen eye of a marksman--or Randy Newman, for that matter--who somehow let his own demise get the jump on him, despite having written prescient jollities like "Mr. Bad Example" and Life'll Kill Ya. In short, Zevon walked it like he talked it, peril be damned. If he felt like turning in a straight-up take of the R&B chestnut "A Certain Girl," or lumbering inexplicably through Prince's "Raspberry Beret," only then to turn on a dime and indulge his classical pretenses on "Mutineer" and "Genius," so be it. Zevon just couldn't help himself from living up to this album's modest title. --Jerry McCulley
Do not miss this extraordinary album. It's a compilation of the work of an American musical genius, an aptly titled CD indeed. Virtually every record on this anthology is a tremendous exercise of Zevon's lyrical brilliance; and every one of them should've gotten much more airplay than they actually received upon their release. Not only are they lyrically superb and exquisite, they're also loaded with catchy hooks."Genius" is one of the finest 'greatest h..