Archive for June, 2008

Alejandro Escovedo’s “Real Animal” Was Born In The Wild

Posted in Music with tags , , , , , , on June 24, 2008 by johnbuckley100

If you did not know how long the road has been for Alejandro Escovedo to be able to release a radio-ready disk as commercially viable and excellent as “Real Animal,” you might think it was easy.  Yet it was just three years ago that we wondered whether Al would live long enough to ever play music again.  That he’s now produced not simply a career restropective, but the album of his career is a testament to persistence, magic, kismet.  You don’t need to be a cynic to doubt such happy endings.  This one’s true.

“Real Animal” is the hardest rocking album Alejandro’s been involved in since that Buick McKane project in the late ’90s.  It actually wallops as hard as that second, inferior True Believers album back in the late ’80s.  Tony Visconti quotes liberally from his past work for David Bowie, and cribs from some of Bowie’s other, lesser producers, to give Alejandro a sheen that serves him well.  It’s the songs, though, and how strong Al’s voice is, that makes the record a career highlight.

“Always A Friend” is a transparent attempt at an FM hit, if there is such a thing these days, and kicks off the album with an homage to Alejandro’s new friend Bruce Springsteen.  I don’t hold this against anyone involved.  Interestingly, “Chelsea Hotel,” which shows him reminiscing for the days of ’78 when Neon Leon stalked West 23rd Street, sounds more like a John Cale song than anything on 2006’s “The Boxing Mirror,” which Cale produced.  

“Sister Lost Soul” is prime Alejandro: melodic, beautiful, a marriage of classic ’70s rock with Austin grit. The sheer improbability of an American artist who combines Rolling Stones riffs with Bowie glam, Detroit guitar rock with Southwestern roots rock, and fills it all out with a small chamber orchestra on top of two-guitars and kicking drums can partly explain why the boy’s defied the easy categorization the music biz demands.

“Smoke,” like “Nuns Song,” is one of the greatest hard rockers from any of Alejandro’s bands or periods — and this is a guy who was in a San Francisco punk band (The Nuns), a Texas hard rock project (True Believers), and the seminal roots rockers Rank and File.  In fact, “Nuns Song,” with its farfisa organ garage undertow, and choogling cellos in the rhythm section, is such a great song he repeats it as an acoustic duo with Dave Pulkingham, and damn if it’s not just as good.

“Sensitive Boys” makes you think of Bowie’s “Young Americans” album and “Golden Bear” takes its production cues from The Thin White Duke — cleverly, without being derivative; it’s a quotation more than an appropriation.

The album has some misses.  The title track’s not great, and some of the softer songs are poor reminders of how poignant Alejandro is at his best.

But did the guy rise to the moment?  Yes, and then some.  His partnership with Chuck Prophet here is remarkably successful, and Visconti was both an inspired choice and a great medium to invoke the spirit of Alejandro’s past.

Rare is the artist who by merely quoting from himself can create an album as diverse and deep as “Real Animal.”  But of course our most important American songwriter of the past fifteen years would come through when it matters.  He’s a real animal.

Thurston Moore and Byron Coley’s “No Wave”

Posted in Music with tags , , , , , , on June 2, 2008 by johnbuckley100

Thurston Moore and Byron Coley have just published a gloriously scuzzy high-end artbook cum conversation among the participants of New York’s No Wave subculture, which existed in the blink of a crusted eye between 1976 and 1980. 

The difference between historians Thurston Moore & Byron Coley and Edward Gibbon is that Gibbon didn’t have documentary photos of Rome’s decline and fall.

The difference between archaeologists Thurston Moore & Byron Coley and Walter Alva is that when Alva unearthed those Sipan tombs, none of the mummies could speak in whole sentences about what life was like in the Moche heyday.

They’ve done a really good job of letting the participants speak for themselves (thank you, ur-historian George Plimpton for producing “Edie” lo those many years ago), while ransacking the NY Rocker photo vault for some great black and white pics.

I arrived in New York too late for Teenage Jesus and the Jerks, and I never really liked Mars and DNA, though I admit to having enjoyed the Contortions (at least for the novelty, and from the back of the room, where it was safe.)  I got there just in time for 8 Eyed Spy, though, and because Byron was incredibly generous in introducing his fellow Hampshire College grad (that would be me) to Andy Schwartz at NY Rocker, I think my very first published review, entitled “Love for Lydia,” was of one of their early shows at Max’s.

Byron was the coolest person any of us knew, and still is.  When he says in the author’s bio here that he was the “resident editor” of NY Rocker, it’s an in-joke — he actually lived in the offices at Fifth Avenue and 23rd in late ’78 or so.

This brings it all back, and does so really intelligently.  It’s Moore’s and Coley’s insight that New York was never really about punk, but always about art rock.  That’s right, and very smart.  The narrative, if that’s what it is, of “No Wave” is built on the story of how two sets of multiple bands — one from the East Village, the other from Soho and points south and west of Houston and Broadway — got essentially pared down for history by Brian Eno choosing only the aforementioned four — Mars, DNA, Teenage Jesus and the Jerks, and the Contortions — for his “No New York” sampler.  Eno undefensively tells the tale of kismet that led to that record, including a wonderful sense-making detail about the cover: the reason all the bands showed up as individual pictures was he was influenced by the wanted posters for the Baader-Meinhof Gang!  Those were the days.

Anyone could pull together a compilation of the CBGB bands like Blondie and the Ramones and Television and the Talking Heads.  Possibly no two other people — okay, Chris Nelson and Andy Schwartz — could have pulled together “No Wave.” Not just because of the cred needed to get all factions to participate, but just the very sensibility needed to try!

I arrived in New York for good (until I moved four years later) in 1979, and by that time the half life of a movement was over.  That didn’t bother me, for there was still lots going on in ’79, including the first sightings of Thurston Moore on the way to his forming Sonic Youth.  Besides, I liked bands that played rock’n’roll — the Fleshtones, the DBs, etc.  But many of the second-gen No Wave bands, from the Raybeats to the Bush Tetras, gave us plenty of fine nights at Tier 3, followed, as Byron remembers, by egg creams at Dave’s on Canal.  This book brings it all back.  

Go buy it before books themselves go the way of Tier 3 and Dave’s Luncheonette.

Liquidate Paris, Blood Meridian Said, And This Guy Agrees

Posted in Uncategorized on June 2, 2008 by johnbuckley100

Leica M8, 50mm Summilux

Will Alejandro Escovedo’s “Real Animal” Make Him A Star, Finally?

Posted in Music with tags , , , , , on June 1, 2008 by johnbuckley100

Alejandro Escovedo is about to release a new album, “Real Animal,” and I note that he’s to perform on the set of the “Today Show” on June 24th, the date of release.  That stage is usually reserved for reunions by New Kids on the Block, right? He was interviewed by the great Kid Leo on Little Steven’s Underground Garage. He’s on the road opening for Dave Mathews.  He’s just been signed by a new manager, Jon Landau, who’s other notable client is some guy from New Jersey named Bruce.  Could this, at long bloody last, be it?  Are the portents for the success so cruelly denied one of our greatest songwriters and performers at last showing up, like a comet in the evening sky?  

Consider this: if you go to Alejandro and play the new “Nuns Song” which previews on it, you’ll get a taste of Al at his hard rock best — Hector walloping the drums, Brian’s cello chugging like a freight train, with this underlying “96 Tears” farfisa reminding us of Al’s garage roots.  It’s about his late ’70s San Francisco band, The Nuns, and it’s a rockin’ gem.  “Sister Lost Soul” is Alejandro at his most melodically beautiful. “Always A Friend” showcases the Tony Visconti production.  Yeah, it could be on a Mott The Hoople album, if Mott the Hoople was the finest band in Austin.  (It actually sounds — and in this context, it’s a compliment — a little like that guy name of Bruce.)

I was disappointed by what John Cale did with Alejandro’s sound on “The Boxing Mirror,” the might-not-have-ever-happened album heralding his return to health and sobriety following a nasty interlude with Interferon in the goal of recovery from Hep C.  But these songs, co-written by Chuck Prophet, are superb.

Is the American musical artist most worthy of success finally about to taste some? Oh man.  Fingers crossed.



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