A Man Under the Influence
It’s safe to say that Alejandro Escovedo will never be a huge star. After all, Escovedo has rattled around since the late 1970s, first in bands like The Nuns, Rank And File, and The True Believers, and then on his own. His music is not easily categorized, combining punk rock grit with poetic lyrics and chamber orchestra delicacy. His mournful voice may not technically be the ideal instrument, but he manages to employ it with surprising versatility and subtlety.
But Escovedo has proven himself to be one of the truly outstanding songwriters of the last fifteen years. And his latest record finds him hooking up with a complimentary cast on one of his most eclectic and consistent song cycles. Escovedo enlists members of Whiskeytown, Superchunk, Squirrel Nut Zippers, The Backsliders, and Tres Chicas as well as producer (and ex-dB) Chris Stamey on this fascinating musical journey.
The record opens with “Wave” and “Rosalie,” two dramatic and emotional tracks from a play Escovedo has collaborated on about his father’s life called By the Hand of the Father. “Castanets” is a Stones-y rocker that was previewed on last year’s Oxford American Southern Sampler CD. “I like her better when she walks away,” Escovedo sings. “Follow You Down” is a delicate number with violin and cello that could pass for a Jayhawks song circa Hollywood Town Hall.
Escovedo trades guitar licks with Eric Heywood, Mitch Easter, Stamey, and Joe Eddy Hines on the impressive glam rocker “Velvet Guitar,” which has a tune that sounds partially borrowed from “Let’s Spend the Night Together.” Heywood contributes steel guitar and pump organ to the pretty “Wedding Day,” which bears a resemblance to one of Escovedo’s best songs “Last to Know.” “You were locked in time/By the ring that binds you/On your wedding day,” Escovedo sings. It’ll be a nice addition to the wedding-themed mix tape I keep making for friends who tie the knot.
But the best song here may be “Rhapsody,” which bears the audible stamp of Whiskeytown. “So if the melody escapes me/I will stumble upon it soon/If it’s not a rhapsody/The memory will have to do,” Escovedo sings. This one is a rhapsody Al.