Music News

Under His Spell Again

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Hard Road: Sometime in 1994, I received a copy of a single from Alejandro Escovedo's second solo album, Thirteen Years. The five-song disc included the album cuts "The End"/"Losing Your Touch," but it was a trio of live covers that caught my attention. One of these was the Ian Hunter chestnut "I Wish I Was Your Mother." Backed only by a cello, violin and his own guitar, Escovedo's elegiac reading of the song is still one of the most beautiful and stirring musical moments I can recall. Five years later, I stood (along with 50 or 60 others) watching Escovedo in the backyard of a South Austin house/taco shop. On that sun-kissed March afternoon, I listened again with the same rush of amazement as Escovedo and his mini-orchestra played song after song for an equally enthused crowd of locals and visiting industry types.

The best (and perhaps only) way to describe Escovedo's music is to say that it's awash in torrents of sorrow, anger and pathos. From Escovedo's tenure in Austin's seminal True Believers, the repetition of those themes has been the cornerstone of his moving songcraft. Such depth of emotion is understandable when you consider the personal suffering he's endured (the death of a brother and the suicide of his ex-wife among them). Escovedo's music has always teetered precariously on the edges, merging punk's deconstructivist leanings with the more solid foundations of traditional country and rock 'n' roll.

Although it may have seemed a bit hyperbolic when alt-country magazine No Depression proclaimed Escovedo its "Artist of the Decade" last year, it made it no less an accurate statement. Consider his output since 1992: four stellar solo records, a brilliant live compilation, and an album with garage band side project Buick McKane, plus the repackaging of the True Believers' first album and unreleased follow-up.

Add to that a career that has included stints with legendary Bay Area punks the Nuns (the group opened the Sex Pistols' final show at San Francisco's Winterland), and insurgent country pioneers Rank and File, and you can see why Escovedo is held in such high regard. His own battle-scarred past notwithstanding, it's his recent musical efforts that have garnered him the most respect and praise.

After a commercially disappointing one-album stint with Rykodisc (which produced 1996's musically varied and ambitious With These Hands), Escovedo seems to have found a home with Chicago's Bloodshot label. Last year's More Miles Than Money was a stirring effort showcasing the best live moments from Escovedo's 1994-1996 tours with his string-heavy band.

His latest record, Bourbonitis Blues, is something of a transitional album. Originally intended as an EP, the nine-track disc features four new originals plus covers ranging from the Gun Club's "Sex Beat" to Jimmie Rodgers' "California Blues."

In the midst of a two-month-long road swing in support of the record, Escovedo says he plans on retuning to the recording studio after the tour to begin work on his first album of all new material in more than three years.

Whether he's singing from his bottomless bag of originals or working through equally powerful takes on classics like the Stooges' "I Wanna Be Your Dog" and the Rolling Stones' "Sway," Escovedo's ability as a live performer is such that his upcoming Valley appearance should not be missed by even the most casual music fan.

Alejandro Escovedo is scheduled to perform on Thursday, August 26, at the Balboa Cafe in Tempe. Showtime is 8 p.m.

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Bob Mehr
Contact: Bob Mehr