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Learning to Flinch (Live)

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Album Review

In 1992, Warren Zevon still had a loyal audience, but he was no longer the top-shelf rock star he had once been, and since economics prevented him from taking a full band out on the road, he began performing as, to use his words, "a heavy-metal folk singer," playing solo with an amplified acoustic guitar or keyboard for accompaniment. Learning to Flinch was recorded during Zevon's world tour of that year, featuring 16 songs recorded straight to DAT tape by his soundman Duncan Aldrich. While a few of the songs suffer a bit in their stripped down arrangements, what's surprising is how Zevon often uses his solo status as a chance to take the songs in unexpected directions; the ominous synthesizer patterns he weaves through "Roland the Headless Thompson Gunner" suggest the score to some imaginary Werner Herzog film, his long romp on guitar through "Poor Poor Pitiful Me" may not need to go on for nine minutes but it takes far longer than you'd expect to realize its length, and his use of distortion and digital looping gives the music a broader spectrum than expected. These songs also cut to the emotional chase fast and clean in these recordings; "Mister Bad Example"'s dark humor goes deeper (and generates more laughs) in this performance, while it's hard to imagine what Zevon's old pal Bruce Springsteen must have thought after being most uncharitably name-checked in "The Indifference of Heaven." As a document of Zevon as a live act, Learning to Flinch doesn't match the power of 1981's Stand in the Fire, but it shows that the man had smarts, charisma and imagination that would carry the show regardless of the format of his performance, and there are plenty of remarkable moments captured here. [A limited edition of the CD was also released.]


Born: 24 January 1947 in Chicago, IL

Genre: Rock

Years Active: '60s, '70s, '80s, '90s, '00s

Few of rock & roll's great misanthropes were as talented, as charming, or as committed to their cynicism as Warren Zevon. A singer and songwriter whose music often dealt with outlaws, mercenaries, sociopaths, and villains of all stripes, Zevon's lyrics displayed a keen and ready wit despite their often uncomfortable narrative circumstances, and while he could write of love and gentler emotions, he did so with the firm conviction that such stories rarely end happily. Though he frequently worked with...
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Learning to Flinch (Live), Warren Zevon
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