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MUSIC: Alejandro Escovedo Wows at Narrows Center

Thursday, April 24, 2014

 

Austin, Texas was “in the house” last Saturday night at The Narrows Center as Roots Rocker Alejandro Escovedo returned to Fall River. It was a spirited show from the celebrated Americana artist, who began his career with The Nuns, a seminal punk band of the late 70s.

His Own Genre

Escovedo’s style is a little hard to categorize. Rolling Stone writer David Fricke noted “Musically, (he) is in his own genre.” He’s right - who needs labels anyway! This tex-mex-alt-roots-rock-country artist satisfies the soul. He’s highly regarded in the Roots Rock/Alt-Country community, and was named “Artist of the Decade” in 1998 by No Depression magazine.

He’s a brilliant songwriter, with lyrics full of depth and passion, and a little humor in the mix. He’s feted by none other than Bruce Springsteen, with whom he recorded “Always a Friend” in 2008. In a sense, Escovedo is to Texas as Springsteen is to Jersey, spinning stories of struggle, pain, and hope in his lyrics and banter between songs.

Like Springsteen, the stories are very real, but the tone is uplifting; there's a redemptive quality that drives his music. That, along with his authentic personality and a good measure of guitar fuzz, drives his kick-ass band, the Sensitive Boys to great heights.

Rock and Roll

He opened with several upbeat rockers including “Can’t Make Me Run” and “Bottom of the World” (a place called Houston, TX) from 2012’s Big Station. “Sensitive Boy,” from the Real Animal album was another early show highlight.

One of his signature tunes, “Wave,” followed. It tells the story of his father uprooting the family and moving them to California when he was a child. In 2002, he explored this theme on his semi-documentary “By the Hand of the Father,” a story about the Mexican-American experience.

“Castanets,” another well-liked tune, was next, “about a lovely girl with no sense of rhythm,” he noted wryly. The no nonsense attitude sprinkled with a little humor makes this song memorable.

“She plays castanets, she works without a net
I like her better when she walks away
She turns me on like a pick-up truck
I like her better when she walks away…”

Por Vida

It’s no secret that Escovedo barely survived a health scare in 2003 when he contracted Hepatitis C. At the time, his friends (Lucinda Williams, Los Lonely Boys, Cowboy Junkies and many more) pitched in and recorded a two disc set, Por Vida, to help defer the cost of mounting medical bills. In one of his best songs, “Arizona,” he reflects on the life changes he needed to make at the time:

“Have another drink on me
I’ve been empty since Arizona
I turned my back on me
And faced the face of who I thought I was."

Like A Hurricane

Escovedo knows how to re-interpret cover songs - he did justice with "Strait to Hell," a classic by The Clash, and rocked hard with his band on Neil Young’s “Like a Hurricane,” arguably the greatest grunge-rock song ever recorded. His version rivals the original, complete with Pete Townshend windmills, and guitar distortion galore.

It’s worth remembering that this artist once played in a band that opened for the Sex Pistols final show. After almost 40 years in the music business, he’s a musician on top of his game, still writing soulful ballads and edgy rock songs. And by the look of things on Saturday night, he’s enjoying every moment of it!

Amy Cook


Fellow Austin based singer-songwriter Amy Cook opened the show. Her smooth delivery and airy lilt delighted the crowd – she a mellow folk artist who has a voice like Edie Brickell, with a dash of Rickie Lee Jones thrown in. Cook’s a roots rocker with pop sensibilities, a product of her early years in California, where several of her songs were included on popular TV shows like Dawson’s Creek, Veronica Mars, and The “L” Word.

Cook impressed the audience with heartfelt confessionals from her own recordings, along with a stunning cover of Blondie’s “Dreaming.” Accompanied by only her guitar and a pedal or two, she strummed though “Its Gonna Rain,” a song she recorded with Robert Plant on supporting vocals. (Yes, that Robert Plant!)

Another highlight was “Summer Skin,” the title tune from her latest album, a brilliant song of loss and redemption. The arrangement is sparse - the lyrics penetrating:

“Well I laid back and I lost track, Sleeping on the waves till dawn
Done is done, gone is gone, Pick up your feet and you carry on
I will shed my summer skin, Never come back this way again”

Cook closed with “I Wake Up,” a warm love song from Summer Skin. She’s a top notch singer and songwriter – her voice easy on the ears, her lyrics direct and convincing. I highly recommend giving her a listen.

Ken Abrams reviews roots, rock and blues for GoLocal. Click here to e-mail him.

 

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