Escovedo's professional and personal misadventures spawned the melancholic
and autobiographical folk-rock of
Gravity (Watermelon, 1992).
Here the artist strips his heart naked, facing alone the sins of his past
and the tragic state of the present. The music, however, is galvanizing.
Paradise is an explosive hybrid of
piano anthem a` la
sneering rant a` la
and hard-rock riff a` la
And the arrangements are never trivial: the stately waltzing
Broken Bottle is peppered
with street organ and chamber cello;
Bury Me weaves together syncopated beat, funky guitar and jazzy trumpet.
The funereal piano ballad She Doesn't Live Here Anymore marks
the lowest emotional point, followed by the
folk-rock elegy Last To Know, reminiscent of
the singer-songwriters of the 1970s
(echoes of John Denver).
The seven-minute Gravity/Falling Down Again, instead, fails to stand up as an equivalent of Don McLean's American Pie.
On the other hand, One More Time weds
Warren Zevon's wild piano boogie
and a feral pace a` la Rolling Stones;
and Oxford could have been on the Rolling Stones' Exile on Main Street.
And so the standout is not a cry of dejection but the virulent, pounding,
martial Pyramid Of Tears with Farfisa organ reminiscent of garage-rock of the 1960s.
The contribution to this creative fest by Stephen Bruton is not negligible.
Thirteen Years (Watermelon, 1993) was, if possible, even more depressed,
and a lot less musical.
Escovedo laments in tex-mex style
(Ballad Of The Sun And The Moon, with echoes of Hawaiian and Cuban music,
and even a refrain in the strings that mimicks Guantanamera)
and in a jazzy style (Helpless, reminiscent of Harry Mancini's
Susan Voelz's violin and
Megan Levin's harp pen the neoclassical arrangement of the delicate country-ish
She Towers Above.
Escovedo's rougher side comes out only in Losing Your Touch, that sounds
like the Replacements covering
David Bowie's The Jean Genie.
Escovedo also formed the Setters (Watermelon, 1993) with
the Wild Seeds' Michael Hall
and the Silos' Walter Salas-Humara.
The album contains his songs
It's Hard, She's Got, Helpless, Tell Me Why,
The arrangements are almost baroque on
With These Hands (Rykodisc, 1996), thanks
to the work of Stephen Barber, but
Escovedo has lost the magic touch of the first album.
When he indulges in the pose of the laconic folksinger a` la
Chris Isaak, he ends up with simple litanies
like Tired Skin and Tugboat but also with
the tedious soft rock of Pissed Off 2AM and Sometimes.
He is clearly going for mainstream pop appeal with the
synth-rock of Put You Down and the
soul-jazz of Slip, getting closer to the target when a romantic deluge
of violins buries the country lament Nickel And A Spoon.
The album is redemeed from mediocrity by a
roaring elegy a` la Neil Young
an agonizing blues-rock
replete with gritty harmonica
(Little Bottles) and
saloon-style southern boogie of Guilty.
More Miles Than Money Live 1994-96 (Bloodshot) was meant to
celebrate the 20th anniversary of his career.
Bourbonitis Blues (Bloodshot, 1999) collects several covers and a
few old tracks (Sacramento & Polk).
Relocated to Austin, Escovedo was still considered the ultimate "cowpunk",
but he sounded increasingly like the aging icon who plays in an
autumnal western movie.
For the record, his brother Pete was a star of salsa music, and his niece
Sheila E. played with Prince.
Perhaps not the "artist of the decade", as proclaimed by the No
Depression magazine, but certainly one of the truly outstanding
singer songwriters of the turn of the century, Escovedo is joined on
A Man Under The Influence (Bloodshot, 2001) by
Ryan Adams from
Chip Robinson, Chris Phillips from the
Squirrel Nut Zippers,
Jon Wurster and Mac McCaughan from
Unfortunately the album opens with a couple of ballads taken from one of his
Wave and Rosalie, that sound like
Bruce Springsteen without the pathos.
Best of his chamber laments is perhaps the solemn Wedding Day,
but all of them are easily dwarfed by the
catchy country-rock elegy Rhapsody.
His rockers are less and less interesting: Castanets "boasts"
a guitar riff reminiscent of the Beatles' Get Back, and
the boogie of Velvet Guitar is reminiscent
of the Rolling Stones' Let's Spend the Night Together.
As I Fall
About This Love
While it doesn't even come close to the spectral magic of
producer John Cale turns
The Boxing Mirror (Back Porch, 2006) into a psychological sonic bath,
into the kind of dark, tuneful experience that
Leonard Cohen's albums used to be.
The small chamber/country ensemble that Cale and Escovedo gathered
(guitarist Jon Dee Graham,
Poi Dog Pondering's
violinist Susan Voelz, cellist Brian Standefer, bassist Mark Andes, drummer Hector Munoz , keyboardist Bruce Salmon, accordionist Otono Lujan, guitarist David Polkingham)
bridges the era of those myths (the early 1970s), the golden era of Escovedo
(the 1980s) and the era of this album (the 2000s) the same way that Nico's
albums bridged her mythological era and her real post-hippie era.
The results are the gentle and understated lullabies
such as Arizona or the Latin-tinged The Ladder
that are recast as moody, meditational music;
the pulsing power-pop of Dear Head On The Wall, that
exhibits the austere quality of classical music;
the funereal Gram Parsons-ian dirge
Died A Little Today.
While pushed by Cale towards a more stylish form of music, Escovedo remains
a rocker at heart.
Notes On Air finally recovers the desperate
vigor of his first album, and the propulsive,
Lou Reed-ian Break This Time
(the album's standout)
marks a new chapter of his erudite rock revivalism.
And the manic rockabilly Sacramento & Polk is probably the angriest
Escovedo has ever sounded on his solo albums.
Real Animal (2008) sounded like a tribute to his earlier life
as a punk-rocker.
The album was more about the production by Tony Visconti than about
The catchy folk-rock lullaby Sister Lost Soul and
the Van Morrison-ain soul-poppy Always A Friend
are counterbalanced by the
gritty syncopated southern-rock of Smoke
and the swirling rockabilly of Chip N' Tony.
But Escovedo is perhaps more sincere when he sings with little or no
accompaniment, notably in
Hollywood Hills and Swallows Of San Juan.
Street Songs of Love (Fantasy, 2010), again produced by Tony Visconti,
is ostensibly a collection of radio-friendly love songs, but Escovedo's
definition of love songs encompasses
anthemic shout Faith (a duet with Bruce Springsteen),
punk-rocker Tender Heart,
garage stomper Silver Cloud,
and especially power elegy Anchor.
It was perhaps his least ambitious album yet, but not necessarily the less
memorable for it. Even at his most restrained Escovedo was capable of
psychologically sophisticated pieces like Tula.
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