When Alejandro Paints His Masterpiece

In 2008, with the release of Real Animal, Alejandro Escovedo proved ready for his close up.  After years on the road, after his recovery from the ravages of Hep C and the beginning of recovery from the alcohol that caused it, Alejandro pretty much nailed it, insofar as churning out an airplay-ready platter was concerned.  Tony Visconti proved to be the sympathetic and ideal producer that weirdly a year earlier John Cale was not, though truth be told, The Boxing Mirror captured Alejandro brittle in the early stages of sobriety, dry on several levels, and still wobbly on his feet. With today’s release of Street Songs of Love, it has all come together: Alejandro has released the greatest rock’n’roll album of his long and storied career.

It wouldn’t be accurate to say I didn’t like Real Animal. I loved songs like “Chelsea Hotel ’78,” “Smoke,” and “Nuns Song.”  But I found “Always A Friend” too self-consciously an attempt to get into the managerial and artistic slipstream of Al’s new friend Bruce Springsteen, whose manager Jon Landau had taken on the duties of getting this unheralded American treasure known by a wider audience.  Those three songs rank among the best rock songs of Escovedo’s career, but too many of the softer songs fell into the nether region between rock ballads and the achingly beautiful chamber-folk concoctions that Alejandro had woven on great albums like With These Hands and Thirteen Years. I loved the concept of Alejandro telling his own story in a single album — going back through his days in San Francisco with The Nuns, or in New York with Rank and File, or Austin with the True Believers.  And I was happy to hear it actually played on FM radio.  I just didn’t really love it.

With Street Songs of Love the worry is that I’ll play it over and over and over again until my iPod, ears, and brain give out.  Yes, some of the riffs and chord progressions have been recycled from songs like “Chelsea Hotel ’78” and “Smoke.”  That’s fine; recycling is good for the environment and Alejandro’s found his groove in self-homage.  But he doesn’t back down and fall into soft rock mush; this is the rockingest album he’s been on since that second, flawed True Believers record.  It’s nice that Bruce does a duet with him, and great to hear him sing with his hero Ian Hunter.  But the reason this one is so great is that it’s the real proof that Alejandro is a rock’n’roll animal.

This one has a stripped down band — no cellos or violins, just Hector Munoz bashing the drum kit like he’s killing a gila monster with the butt of a gun, and David Pulkingham reeling off riffs like he’s the living embodiment of Wagner and Hunter on Lou Reed’s Rock n Roll Animal.  The trinity of Alejandro references — early ’70s Rolling Stones, Mott the Hoople, and late ’70s LA-SF-NY punk rock — hold everything together.  Someday soon I”d love to hear Alejandro pull together a double album with a quiet side, his own version of Exile.  For now, having this platter of crunching rockers will do.  With the Bruce bait for DJs, maybe this will finally make Alejandro the star that in a just world he would have been long, long ago.

One Response to “When Alejandro Paints His Masterpiece”

  1. You got that right. Great album. Saw him live in an acoustic set last month with Pilkingham (and a Hunter walk-on for the finale). Amazing.

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