The only contact South Floridians likely have had with Alejandro Escovedo (yes, he counts Sheila E. and her dad, Pete, as relatives) was when his seminal nuevo-Western outfit, Rank and File, toured the country opening for Los Lobos. Now he's matured into one of the finest Latino singer-songwriters in the land, and if the 49-year-old stays on track, he may well be ready to leave obscurity behind for the recognition he deserves.
Escovedo's career began in the San Francisco area during the late '70s when he was a founding member of the Nuns, a provocative and noisy band. Resurfacing in Austin in the early '80s with Rank and File, Escovedo worked on that group's debut, Sundown -- now considered a classic slice of cow-punk -- and went on to form True Believers and later to play in the band Buick MacKane. His solo records, including 1998's live document More Miles Than Money, find Escovedo following roughly the same course as artists like Dave Alvin (the Blasters, X): after shedding his rough exterior, he's plunged into acoustic storytelling.
But that old fire still cooks on the recent Bourbonitis Blues -- a case in point is a revisit to his West Coast roots with "Sacramento & Polk" --but overall there's a gentler sway, evidenced by a subdued, romanticized version of the Velvet Underground's "Pale Blue Eyes."
Escovedo's new music is intricately arranged, mitigating his bluesy swagger with judicious amounts of achy-breaky cello and violin, though the emotional impact hasn't let up one iota. True to the album's title, Escovedo recounts some of his battles with the bottle. (Note "I Was Drunk.") He's sobered up now, but the memories still seem raw and recent. Escovedo might unveil new material on his current tour, though it may sound similar to his alcohol-tinged pieces, since his forthcoming fall release is provisionally titled A Man Under the Influence.
Because Escovedo's on such an upward curve -- the progression from angry young punk to eloquent bard of the bottle is nothing short of remarkable -- Man Under the Influence may be his ticket to a wider audience. Bootstrappers like Escovedo are to be admired, and at the rate he's going, Los Lobos just might have to start looking to him for inspiration.
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