The Wind is like an X-ray with a dark shadow that shouldn’t be there and can’t be ignored. Recorded after Zevon was diagnosed in 2002 with inoperable lung cancer, it sounds like the work of a guy who’s still fighting, but also starting to wrap things up. Although Zevon is best known for his poison-dart wit, he’s always been a bit of a softie, too. It’s no surprise, then, that The Wind leans heavily on irony-free ballads such as “She’s Too Good for Me,” “El Amor de mi Vida,” and “Please Stay.” But there’s also a dose of defiant blues (“Rub Me Raw”) and plenty of dirty slide guitar, courtesy of Ry Cooder and David Lindley. (Other guests include Bruce Springsteen, Don Henley, Tom Petty, Jackson Browne, and Dwight Yoakam).
If the lyrics generally lack the literary precision of Zevon’s best work, the songs take on greater weight given the circumstance under which they were recorded. Heard in 1983, a party-hearty anthem like “The Rest of the Night” would’ve sounded like yet another dumb argument for hedonism, and “Numb as a Statue” might have come off as the self-lacerating joke of an alcoholic unable to deal with his emotions directly. However, on The Wind, these songs are genuinely touching, the work of a guy deadened by meds but unwilling to surrender to The Big Sleep just yet. A cover of Dylan’s “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door” is the album’s most direct comment on Zevon’s fragile health, but the most touching song is the album-closing acoustic ballad “Keep Me in Your Heart,” recorded by Zevon at home after the star-studded studio work was complete. Clearly, Zevon survived one hell of a farewell party last night, but now it’s morning again and there’s no telling what the rest of the day might bring. –Keith Moerer