Alejandro Escovedo

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Gravity , 7/10
Thirteen Years , 5.5/10
With These Hands , 5/10
Bourbonitis Blues, 4/10
A Man Under The Influence , 5/10
The Boxing Mirror (2006), 7/10
Real Animal (2008), 6/10
Street Songs of Love (2010), 6/10

As an adult, in the 1990s, Alejandro Escovedo, who had played punk-rock with the Nuns, country-rock with Rank And File (1982), and roots-rock with the True Believers (1986) became one of the most solemn voices of his generation.
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Alejandro Escovedo (nato a San Antonio, in Texas, ma cresciuto a Los Angeles) ci ha provato in tutti i modi. Inizio` a San Francisco nei Nuns, gruppo storico del primo punk californiano, per i quali scrisse due capolavori della levatura di Decadent Jew e Suicide Child.

Poi si converti` al country & western con i Rank And File in Texas, formati da Chip e Tony Kinman (reduci dei Dils). Con Sundown (Slash, 1982) furono fra gli iniziatori del "cow-punk", effimera e deleteria moda dei primi anni '80, ed Escovedo scrisse la loro omonima sigla, una delle ballate piu` originali del movimento. Sull'album spiccano numeri pop alla Springsteen come Amanda Ruth, quadriglie come Not In Love, folkrock come I Went Walking, ballate alla Hank Williams come Coyote. (I fratelli Kinman avrebbero inciso ancora un dignitoso Long Gone Dead nel 1984, un commerciale Rank And File nel 1987 e infine un abietto disco di synth-pop, Blackbird).

Nel 1986 Escovedo esordi` alla testa dei True Believers che nel primo album (per la Rounder) dimostrarono maggiore vitalita` (brani come Hard Road e We're Wrong rimarranno tra le perle della sua carriera). Il secondo album della formazione rimase inedito fino al 1994, quando venne compilato in Hard Road (Rykodisc). Almeno The Rain Won't Help You e Ring The Bells meritano di entrare in repertorio.

Nel 1988 Escovedo formo` l'Orchestra (con tanto di violoncello, violino e tastiere), ma in pratica si ritiro` dalle scene. Nel 1991 sua moglie (madre dei suoi quattro figli) si suicido`, acuendo una crisi esistenziale che era in nuce.

Escovedo's professional and personal misadventures spawned the melancholic and autobiographical folk-rock of Gravity (Watermelon, 1992). Here the artist strips his heart naked, facing alone the sins of his past and the tragic state of the present. The music, however, is galvanizing. Paradise is an explosive hybrid of piano anthem a` la Warren Zevon, sneering rant a` la Bob Dylan and hard-rock riff a` la Who. And the arrangements are never trivial: the stately waltzing Broken Bottle is peppered with street organ and chamber cello; Bury Me weaves together syncopated beat, funky guitar and jazzy trumpet. The funereal piano ballad She Doesn't Live Here Anymore marks the lowest emotional point, followed by the folk-rock elegy Last To Know, reminiscent of the singer-songwriters of the 1970s (echoes of John Denver). The seven-minute Gravity/Falling Down Again, instead, fails to stand up as an equivalent of Don McLean's American Pie. On the other hand, One More Time weds Warren Zevon's wild piano boogie and a feral pace a` la Rolling Stones; and Oxford could have been on the Rolling Stones' Exile on Main Street. And so the standout is not a cry of dejection but the virulent, pounding, martial Pyramid Of Tears with Farfisa organ reminiscent of garage-rock of the 1960s. The contribution to this creative fest by Stephen Bruton is not negligible.

Thirteen Years (Watermelon, 1993) was, if possible, even more depressed, and a lot less musical. Escovedo laments in tex-mex style (Ballad Of The Sun And The Moon, with echoes of Hawaiian and Cuban music, and even a refrain in the strings that mimicks Guantanamera) and in a jazzy style (Helpless, reminiscent of Harry Mancini's film soundtracks). Susan Voelz's violin and Megan Levin's harp pen the neoclassical arrangement of the delicate country-ish She Towers Above. Escovedo's rougher side comes out only in Losing Your Touch, that sounds like the Replacements covering David Bowie's The Jean Genie.

Escovedo also formed the Setters (Watermelon, 1993) with the Wild Seeds' Michael Hall and the Silos' Walter Salas-Humara. The album contains his songs It's Hard, She's Got, Helpless, Tell Me Why,

The arrangements are almost baroque on With These Hands (Rykodisc, 1996), thanks to the work of Stephen Barber, but Escovedo has lost the magic touch of the first album. When he indulges in the pose of the laconic folksinger a` la Chris Isaak, he ends up with simple litanies like Tired Skin and Tugboat but also with the tedious soft rock of Pissed Off 2AM and Sometimes. He is clearly going for mainstream pop appeal with the synth-rock of Put You Down and the soul-jazz of Slip, getting closer to the target when a romantic deluge of violins buries the country lament Nickel And A Spoon. The album is redemeed from mediocrity by a roaring elegy a` la Neil Young (Crooked Frame), an agonizing blues-rock replete with gritty harmonica (Little Bottles) and the saloon-style southern boogie of Guilty.

More Miles Than Money Live 1994-96 (Bloodshot) was meant to celebrate the 20th anniversary of his career. Bourbonitis Blues (Bloodshot, 1999) collects several covers and a few old tracks (Sacramento & Polk).

Relocated to Austin, Escovedo was still considered the ultimate "cowpunk", but he sounded increasingly like the aging icon who plays in an autumnal western movie. For the record, his brother Pete was a star of salsa music, and his niece Sheila E. played with Prince.

Perhaps not the "artist of the decade", as proclaimed by the No Depression magazine, but certainly one of the truly outstanding singer songwriters of the turn of the century, Escovedo is joined on A Man Under The Influence (Bloodshot, 2001) by Ryan Adams from Whiskeytown, Chip Robinson, Chris Phillips from the Squirrel Nut Zippers, Jon Wurster and Mac McCaughan from Superchunk. Unfortunately the album opens with a couple of ballads taken from one of his own plays, Wave and Rosalie, that sound like Bruce Springsteen without the pathos. Best of his chamber laments is perhaps the solemn Wedding Day, but all of them are easily dwarfed by the catchy country-rock elegy Rhapsody. His rockers are less and less interesting: Castanets "boasts" a guitar riff reminiscent of the Beatles' Get Back, and the boogie of Velvet Guitar is reminiscent of the Rolling Stones' Let's Spend the Night Together. As I Fall About This Love

While it doesn't even come close to the spectral magic of Nico's albums, producer John Cale turns Escovedo's The Boxing Mirror (Back Porch, 2006) into a psychological sonic bath, into the kind of dark, tuneful experience that Leonard Cohen's albums used to be. The small chamber/country ensemble that Cale and Escovedo gathered (guitarist Jon Dee Graham, Poi Dog Pondering's violinist Susan Voelz, cellist Brian Standefer, bassist Mark Andes, drummer Hector Munoz , keyboardist Bruce Salmon, accordionist Otono Lujan, guitarist David Polkingham) bridges the era of those myths (the early 1970s), the golden era of Escovedo (the 1980s) and the era of this album (the 2000s) the same way that Nico's albums bridged her mythological era and her real post-hippie era. The results are the gentle and understated lullabies such as Arizona or the Latin-tinged The Ladder that are recast as moody, meditational music; the pulsing power-pop of Dear Head On The Wall, that exhibits the austere quality of classical music; and the funereal Gram Parsons-ian dirge Died A Little Today. While pushed by Cale towards a more stylish form of music, Escovedo remains a rocker at heart. Notes On Air finally recovers the desperate Warren Zevon-ian vigor of his first album, and the propulsive, Lou Reed-ian Break This Time (the album's standout) marks a new chapter of his erudite rock revivalism. And the manic rockabilly Sacramento & Polk is probably the angriest Escovedo has ever sounded on his solo albums.

Escovedo's aggressive Real Animal (2008) sounded like a tribute to his earlier life as a punk-rocker. The album was more about the production by Tony Visconti than about Escovedo's music. The catchy folk-rock lullaby Sister Lost Soul and the Van Morrison-ain soul-poppy Always A Friend are counterbalanced by the gritty syncopated southern-rock of Smoke and the swirling rockabilly of Chip N' Tony. But Escovedo is perhaps more sincere when he sings with little or no accompaniment, notably in Hollywood Hills and Swallows Of San Juan.

Street Songs of Love (Fantasy, 2010), again produced by Tony Visconti, is ostensibly a collection of radio-friendly love songs, but Escovedo's definition of love songs encompasses anthemic shout Faith (a duet with Bruce Springsteen), punk-rocker Tender Heart, garage stomper Silver Cloud, and especially power elegy Anchor. It was perhaps his least ambitious album yet, but not necessarily the less memorable for it. Even at his most restrained Escovedo was capable of psychologically sophisticated pieces like Tula.

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