First Look: New Alejandro Escovedo Album

 

Street Songs of Love, featuring
Al and his band the Sensitive Boys and produced by Tony Visconti, is out this
week on Fantasy/Concord. It’s the sound of triumph.

 

By Fred Mills

 

As visceral and uncompromising as his early solo outings were
cerebral and widescreen, Street Songs of
Love
makes a strong case for Alejandro Escovedo being one of our
pre-eminent rock ‘n’ roll artists now operating well outside the parameters of
the so-called Americana realm. That the man voted No Depression magazine’s “Artist of the Decade” for the ‘90s should
submit such a powerhouse set will come as no surprise to anyone who’s seen him
perform with his band during the past year or so (or, going all the way back,
is familiar with Escovedo’s exploits during the late ‘70s and early ‘80s with the
Nuns and the True Believers). However, this is also a man who will turn 60 in
six months and spent several years during the ‘00s recovering from a near-fatal
duel with hepatitis, so it’s unlikely anyone would raise an eyebrow if he’d
opted for a kinder, gentler brand of strum ‘n’ twang and settled into the
sunset-years role of Americana
godfather.

 

Not Al. To hear him exploding out the gate on Street Songs of Love with material that
recalls classic raveups from the Stones, Mott the Hoople and the Clash is to
bear witness to the eternal fountain of (mental) youth that rock ‘n’ roll has
always represented. Small wonder that a couple of other bonafide survivors,
Bruce Springsteen and Ian Hunter, neither of whom has ever indicated a desire
to fade away quietly, turn up on a pair of tracks to contribute guest vocals.
Here, the cat sounds positively possessed: the anthemic, Mott-like “Anchor,” which boasts a biting guitar solo
(courtesy longtime axe foil David Pulkingham), randy-but-right female vocal
harmonies and a string of memorable lyric metaphors (“If your love was a ship/
I’d pull your anchor and christen it” goes one particularly juicy one); punk
romp “Silver Cloud,” which actually sounds like a Clash outtake; swaggering manifesto “Faith,” with its Keef-styled meaty
riffs and, in lieu of a cameo by Mick, The Boss growling into the mic at just
the right spots.

 

True to the album title, these are songs about affairs of
the heart, the joys and aches alike. Escovedo, he’s had a few, and there are
moments of sheer bliss (“First time I saw you I thought I must have dreamed you
up,” he exults, in the raucous, pounding “Tender Heart”) alongside
paranoia-fueled angst (“This bed is getting crowded/ Baby, something feels
wrong,” from “This Bed Is Getting Crowded”). And there are also moments of such
poetic beauty that you want to go grab the nearest stranger and jam your
earbuds onto his head:

 

“She said her first
love was her last

So she cries when she
hears Johnny Cash

All she wants to do is
fall apart with me

All I want is to fall
apart with you…

We know that nothing
ever lasts.”

( – “Fall Apart With You”)

 

It’s also a precisely-paced album that provides a subtle yet
insistent dynamic flow. Five songs in, on the heels of a brace of rockers,
comes the insistent yet gentle reverie of “Down In the Bowery” (the one
featuring Ian Hunter); and then a couple of songs later comes a spooky slice of
New Orleans-flavored swamp rock, “Tula,” one of the highlights of the set
precisely because it’s unexpected and so different from the rest of the record.
There’s also a lovely instrumental, “Fort Worth Blue,” to close the record, and
in its nocturnal, subtly Spanish ambiance (just Escovedo and Pulkingham on
guitars, plus distant percussion) it supplies the perfect coda; worth noting is
that the arrangement was inspired by the late Stephen Bruton, who frequently
worked with Escovedo, and the meditational vibe is profound.

 

Escovedo and his band the Sensitive Boys worked out the new
material over a series of regular weekly gigs in Austin, building the songs from the ground
up, acoustically, then gradually fleshing them out. But credit for much of the
album’s thematic and sonic cohesion, no doubt, is due to producer Tony
Visconti, behind the glass for a second time following the commercial and
critical success of 2008’s Real Animal;
he and Escovedo are clearly simpatico in the studio, in tune with one another
both generationally and philosophically. Also returning for an encore is Chuck
Prophet, who while not playing guitar as he did last time co-wrote fully half
of the album, testimony both to the vitality an outside vision can bring to a
project and to Escovedo’s keen instincts in sussing out a valuable
collaborator. (Tellingly or not, the album’s heaviest tunes – “Anchor,” “Tender
Heart,” “Faith,” “This Bed Is Getting Crowded” – bear the Escovedo-Prophet
songwriting credit.)

 

Still, Street Songs of
Love
represents as pure a distillation of Alejandro Escovedo Mk. 2010 as
one could imagine or hope for. That sweet taste you get in your mouth while
you’re listening to this record? That’s the nectar of triumph, my friends.

 

[Photo Credit: Rosco Weber]

 

 

Leave a Reply