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Alejandro Escovedo in concert


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"Musically, Alejandro Escovedo is in his own genre."

-David Fricke, Rolling Stone

“Escovedo has blended the lyricism of Bruce Springsteen and Jackson

Browne with the raw power of the Stooges and the Velvet Underground…the

result is music with heart, brains, and a burning sense of adventure.”

- Mark Kemp, Rolling Stone

“A masterwork from one of the genuine lights in rock music.”


“Escovedo’s songs brim with beauty and suffering, love and fear, anger and determination — in short, with life.”— USA Today

“Escovedo keeps getting better at an age when most artists are on cruise control.”

- Chicago Tribune

“Tom Waits. Bruce Springsteen. Bob Dylan. They’re master

singer-songwriters who thousands have tried to emulate. This John

Cale-produced album proves there’s another name ready for the list.”

- Penthouse


Alejandro Escovedo

Street Songs of Love

By Lenny Kaye

There are songwriters who sing their songs, and then there are songs who sing their writers.

Alejandro Escovedo is one with his muse and his music. Over a

lifetime spent traversing the bridge between words and melody, he has

ranged over an emotional depth that embraces all forms of genre and

presentation, a resolute voice that weathers the emotional terrain of

our lives, its celebrations and despairs, landmines and blindsides and

upheavals and beckoning distractions, in search for ultimate release and

the healing truth of honesty. Sometimes it takes the form of barely

contained rage, the rock of punk amid kneeled feedback; sometimes it

caresses and soothes, a whispery harmony riding the air of a nightclub

room, removed from amplification, within the audience.

His rise has been gradual, a steady incline rather than a quick

ascendance, but it has deepened and burnished his music, made it closer

to the bone, where it begins to break, deepening his insight and his

ability to find that insight in performance. His tireless touring, and

dogged determination to place one album after another, has taken him

through many musical scenes, remaining the same persona within each, of

an artist who doesn’t settle for the easy way out.

“You just do your good work, and people care,” Alejandro says over

the phone beginning a promotional tour for his latest work, Street Songs

of Love, his tenth solo album. “I always believed, when I was a kid,

that if you just worked hard, you would find fulfillment. I think I got a

lot of that from my father, and my brothers. A working musician is all I

ever wanted to be. Hard work, to stay true to what you want to do, and

then eventually someone would notice for that very reason.”

It is a journey that has taken him from Texas to California to New

York and back again to Texas, encompassing a breadth of music as varied

as the many bands he was part of before embarking on a solo career. In

the 1970s, he surfaced on San Francisco’s no-holds-barred punk scene

centered around the Mabuhay Gardens in North Beach, a guitarist in the

Nuns; Rank&File helped unite the disparate worlds of punk and

country in the 1980s; and after he moved back to Austin, the True

Believers combined all manner of Americana music in a harbinger of what

was to come in Alejandro’s solo career which begun in 1992 with the

album Gravity.

“I had a good record collection,” he says when asked about his many

roots and branches. Born in San Antonio in 1951, “I grew up in a family

of twelve kids. My brothers were jazzers, into Latin jazz and percussion

music, Cuban and Puerto Rican. Both my mother and father loved Mexican

trio music, vocal groups like Los Panchos, and Tres Aces, who sang

beautiful romantic ballads in three part harmony. And then I had a

cousin who lived with us in the fifties, who was slightly older than me,

a teenager who turned me on to Elvis, and Chuck Berry and the Big

Bopper. In 1957 we moved from Texas, where I’d heard the beginnings of

rock, and country music, and the blues a little bit, because it was

around, and we went to California. It was there I got exposed to the

wealth of surf music, and Ike and Tina Turner, James Brown, Thee

Midnighters, the 103rd St. Watts Rhythm Band. My cousins would sneak us

into dances when we were young, and we’d watch the dancers. I got caught

up in that, and the Anglophile thing, all those garage bands who

listened to the English groups and turned it into something new.”

“You can’t be parochial about music,” he continued. “I learned that

if you immerse yourself in something, listening to records over and

over, so it becomes a language, you could learn to speak it. When I

began to come of age, and was able to play the music, it became like a

religion to me. We were fortunate that radio at that time had no

boundaries. It was all brand new. No one knew you couldn’t play Marvin

Gaye, and then Captain Beefheart, and then Sun Ra. It was all great, and

to me, it all made sense.”

It was Alejandro’s exposure to the freewheeling anything-goes ethos

of punk that set him in motion on his musical path. “The beautiful thing

about punk rock to me was that it was all mix-and-match, at least until

it started defining itself,” he said. “We would have shows where a

reggae star like Max Romeo would play with a rockabilly guy like Ray

Campi, and then be followed by the in-your-face blast of Crime.”

But it was in Austin, where he returned in the mid-1980s, that

Alejandro found a musical geography that matched his own eclectic sense

of musical possibility. “It was this place that was completely open. The

community really supported the musicians. It was small enough that you

knew everybody there. You could see Townes Van Zandt walking around, or

go to some beer garden and hear Billy Joe Shaver, or catch the Vaughan

brothers playing every night at some place. Everybody appreciated each

different type of genre of music. The punks respected Townes and the

Vaughans, and the Vaughans respected everybody else. Musicians sometimes

isolate themselves in their respective scenes. So to be in this small

town where everybody encouraged each other, there were great shows all

the time, it was cheap to live there, the beer was great, the girls were

pretty, the weather warm, there was a great swimming hole… It was just

like paradise to me. Austin is an oasis in Texas, where all these kids

from small farming and ranch towns and West Texas and the Panhandle, and

down in the Valley, and East Texas, they all come to Austin because

it’s freedom.”

As the nineties began, Alejandro took this sense of independence and

began to chart his artistic growth through a series of solo albums that

expanded his renown and heart-on-sleeve sensibility. His first producer

was Stephen Bruton, the acclaimed guitarist who unfortunately passed

into the great beyond in May 2009. They made three albums together from

1992 through 1996 – Gravity, Thirteen Years, and With These Hands. He

next worked with Chris Stamey – “I found someone who listened to all the

same records, and loved the same things about rock and roll that I did”

– and the albums that resulted – Bourbonitis Blues (1999), and A Man

Under The Influence (2001) are assured and complex confessionals of

love, desire, and consequence.

It was while showcasing his ambitious theatrical song cycle exploring

the Mexican-American experience, By The Hand of the Father, in 2003

that Alejandro was felled by a dangerous bout with Hepatitis C, which

took him off the road and into recovery. During that time, a double-CD

tribute album, Por Vida, rallied his friends and family around him.

Participants included Escovedos like Pete, Javier and Sheila E., and

appreciators like John Cale, Los Lonely Boys, Calexico, Steve Earle,

Lucinda Williams, Howe Gelb, Ian Hunter and the Jayhawks, all covering

songs from Alejandro’s considerable catalogue. Thankfully, by 2004,

Alejandro was on the way to making a full recovery and return to

performing and recording.

The Boxing Mirror, produced by John Cale in 2006, was the cathartic

album he recorded after his illness. “I had to make that record; there

is no other record I could’ve made at that time. It was uncomfortable to

play, and even now, we don’t perform a lot of the songs off that


Perhaps that led to 2008’s Real Animal, a conceptual songwriting

collaboration with Chuck Prophet that tried “to tell the story of the

bands I was in, how I got inspired by these bands, writers, films,

books, and went on to play, and then the adventures of being in a band.

Chuck added his perspective, which was a lot of times more humorous than

mine. I often can get hung up on the heavier, deeper stuff, sometimes

without meaning to,” he smiles, “and he brought humor and light to the


The album also united him with producer Tony Visconti, “and that

began a relationship that was very important for me creatively,” he

said. “It’s one of those working relationships that I’d always heard

about, and dreamt about, where he was family right away. He loved the

band, he hung out with us, and he’s a real gentle, kind man, very warm

and supportive. He gets everybody up and excited, and I think he brings

things out in us that we didn’t even know existed. You don’t think about

the records that he’s made, from Bowie or T. Rex, and the people he

worked with. He just makes you feel that you’re not trying to live up to

something that you’re not. You’re so comfortable around this person,

and so inspired, that he just becomes you, and that loosens everybody


This shared encouragement can be heard throughout every track of

Street Songs of Love, recorded in a short twelve days in early 2010 at

Saint Claire studios in Lexington, Kentucky, the second time that

Alejandro has been there with Visconti. And, as each record before,

Alejandro had an intuition about how he wanted to frame the album.

Though he often shows up at gigs with a string section in tow, or has

expanded his “orchestra” to a dozen pieces or more, “I knew I just

wanted the two guitars, bass and drums format, that the strings would

have to wait a while. In order to create and build some texture, I

brought in voices,” but other than that, the album is stark and


A large part of the credit for the collaborative feel of ‘Street

Songs’ must go to the Sensitive Boys, Alejandro’s core band. “I love my

band,” he says. “Without them, I’d feel very alone.” Hector Munoz has

been his drummer for twenty three years, while David Pulkingham has

played guitar with Escovedo for the past seven years (he also played all

the keyboards on the album). And while bassist Bobby Daniel is a

relative newcomer over the past year, “it feels like the right

combination,” a fact attested to by the speed of recording the album.

“We had fourteen songs tracked in the first four days; we were just

ripping through them, totally in the zone.

“I began not wanting to talk about myself, just to write songs, cool

pop rock songs.” To that end, he devised an intriguing way in which to

compose and arrange the album, which was to book a two month Tuesday

night residency in Austin’s Continental Club, where Alejandro Escovedo

and the Sensitive Boys could build the album in front of a live crowd.

“We would bring in three new songs every Tuesday night,” he says of

his modus operandi, “and we would play them acoustically first for the

audience, and then I’d bring in the rhythm section, and slowly but

surely we would add each piece, like the singers. I had wanted to bring

in horns, but it never made it to that point. But still, the audience

could watch the songs develop.

“It was interesting to see it grow and blossom. It started with the

room half full, but it built until the last one sold out. Every week it

became more intense with the album taking shape in front of us

organically, a work in progress. It’s as if it knew where it wanted to

go, so that by the end of those two months we had watched songs begin

with a verse and a chorus and become what we felt were complete

compositions. And then we took that on the road for two and a half

weeks, leading us from Austin to playing our first gig in Little Rock,

and then working our way to Louisville, Kentucky, and then the following

day we went to Lexington and started making the record.

“By then we weren’t thinking about the songs. They were a part of us already.”

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