Alejandro Escovedo Embarks From The “Big Station”
There was a time when you could make the case that Alejandro Escovedo was wise beyond his years. He was still a young man when, more than 20 years ago, his wife committed suicide after 13 years of their marriage. In response, Al produced 13 Years and With These Hands, with songs so emotionally charged you had to turn off your car stereo when you were pumping gas. And yet here he is, age 61, with his third straight rocking album and our favorite Austin singer/songwriter is frisky as a pup, ink still wet on his new lease on a sober life, a singer of a certain age trying out rock star poses with a kickin’ ass band. And it’s charming.
Big Station marks the third straight album in which Al’s turned to Chuck Prophet for help on songwriting and to Tony Visconti for production duties. Visconti had long since stopped producing David Bowie when The Thin White Duke and Nile Rogers produced Let’s Dance, but I swear, I thought of that album as an antecedent to Big Station, because it’s one of the only records I can think of that also has the singer’s voice mixed with as much amplification as the drums. Unless I am wrong, for the first time in Al’s long career, stretching all the way back to the Nuns, Rank and File, and the True Believers, there’s a horn section on this record, and on songs like “Sally Was A Cop” and “Party People,” it all works. This is a so-called “radio friendly” record, and so what it it doesn’t have the poignance of “Pissed Off 2:oo A.M.” It sounds great, it’s fun, and Lord knows the man deserves success.
This is a good troika — Escovedo, Prophet, and Visconti — and they’ve done wonders for Alejandro’s music. We loved Real Animal, and thought Street Songs of Love was the finest pure rock’n'roll record of Alejandro’s illustrious career. Big Station has weaker songwriting than Real Animal at its best, and it is not as viscerally charged as Street Songs of Love. For any other artist, this would be a high point; for Alejandro it is a fine record that suffers mostly by comparison to the marginally better records that preceded it. It doesn’t quite have the thematic grit of Animal, though any album that has multiple songs making reference to a woman named Sally plays on the same turf as Spiritualized in its evocation of Lou Reed.
But this is not to damn with faint praise. We were disappointed by Alejandro’s touring behind Street Songs of Love, because reducing his band to a hard-rocking foursome left too many of those glorious shades of grey out of the picture; we missed the big bands, with pedal steel and cellos and a big, big sound. Big Station does not disappoint, it is a worthy addition to one of the finest catalogs in American music. But we do find it funny — in both meanings of the word — that the mature Al sounds so much more boyish than he did on 13 Years, which came out in 1994. He was so much older then, he’s younger than that now.