CD Review of Real Animal by Alejandro Escovedo
Recommended if you like
Los Lobos, Jason & the Scorchers, the Del Feugos
Label
Back Porch
Alejandro Escovedo:
Real Animal

Reviewed by Jim Washington

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A
lejandro Escovedo’s name is revered among roots rock fans, and many of its artists. Sadly, he’s best known outside of that circle for being the guy who got deathly sick with hepatitis and got help from a lot of admiring artists, becoming kind of a symbol of ailing musicians without health insurance.

Of course, it says something when your fan base includes folks like Lucinda Williams, Steve Earle, John Cale, Rosie Flores, M. Ward, Vic Chesnutt and Charlie Musselwhite. What do these folks know that the record-buying public seems to have missed? Mainly that Escovedo is an amazingly talented songwriter with a rich history, something he mines freely on Real Animal, his ninth solo album.

Just a glance down the list of titles shows that Escovedo is looking backward once again on this one. “Nun’s Song” is a slow-burning reference to his first band, the Nuns, a little-known San Francisco punk band dating back to the ’70s. The song “Chip ‘N Tony” is a rocking look back at his second, more high-profile band, Rank and File, formed by fellow punk survivors (and brothers) Chip and Tony Kinman.

Rank and File combined roots rock and punk, something that Escovedo would absorb and examine for the rest of his career.

That self-reflection was evident on his most recent album, Boxing Mirror, recorded with Cale, and the emotionally bare 2002 album By the Hand of the Father, which drew on his Mexican-American roots.

On “Real Animal,” produced by Tony Visconti (David Bowie, T. Rex), the trips through the past include not just the lyrics but musical styles, from punk to Texas twang to orchestrated pop.

“Chelsea,” named for the famous hotel where Sid and Nancy got down and where Escovedo once lived, sounds like Richard Hell on a Texas bender, in which Escovedo sings about poets on barstools and alternately wails “It makes no sense / It makes perfect sense” over a menacing guitar line. “Sister Lost Soul” and “Smoke” are remembrances of old friends, one lovely and slow and the other searing.

“Golden Bear,” named for a California rock club where Escovedo used to hang out, borrows its sound from Space Oddity-era Bowie for a scary look at Escovedo’s battle with his illness. “Why me,” he sings to close the song.

Another thought occurs while listening to this guy who cannot seem to rise above a certain level of musical fame – why not him?

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