Sunday, January 15, 2017

CD Odyssey Disc 957: Alejandro Escovedo

I stayed up a little too late last night and drank a little too much. This led to sleeping in a little too late, but I think I have just enough time to get this review written before I settle in for an afternoon of NFL football.

Disc 957 is….A Man Under the Influence
Artist: Alejandro Escovedo

Year of Release: 2001

What’s up with the Cover? Last minute Halloween costume? This mask looks bent up at the bottom, probably because the wearer realized halfway through the evening he couldn’t both wear the mask and drink. You can’t very well be a man under the influence if your mask gets in the way of your drinkin’ hole!

How I Came To Know It: I had a chance to see Alejandro Escovedo when he came to Victoria a couple years ago and didn’t take it. Stupid! However, I did check out his music online and liked what I heard. Since then I’ve been drilling through his collection. “A Man Under the Influence” is my most recent acquisition.

How It Stacks Up:  Escovedo has 13 studio albums and while I have been hitting that back catalogue pretty hard, I only have five. I don’t know any of them that well yet, so it is hard to compare them. However, based on limited knowledge I’ll put “A Man Under the Influence” in at second or third best, dependent on how I end up feeling about the others when I review them..

Ratings: 3 stars but almost 4

“A Man Under the Influence” is a hard record to categorize. It has its feet firmly planted in rock and roll, it has elements of folk, flamenco and country sprinkled through it as well.

Mostly, this is a record that evokes a romantic mood, with lush and layered production, understated guitar played with grace and ease, and Escovedo’s plaintive vocals.

Escovedo’s vocals sound a lot like Greg Keelor, and many of the songs could fit easily on a Blue Rodeo album from the same era. He won’t blow the roof of a vocal performance, but the songs are written to land well within his range, and he has the right tone for the subject matter.

That subject matter is very often about love, whether that love is fading or blooming; sustaining someone, or dragging them down. It is a subject that is often visited, but Escovedo is determined to examine it from every angle before he’s through.

On “Across the River” Escovedo opts for a stripped down guitar and while I’m never sure of the answer to Escovedo’s question “What kind of love/destroys a mother/and sends her crashing through the tangled trees?” we can feel that it must be terrifying indeed.  “Across the River” is a good example of Escovedo’s storytelling approach, which is dreamlike and non-linear. It is a set of images cycling around one another that leaves you more with an impression than a complete narrative.

Escovedo can be playful as well, as he is on “Castanets” which is a song of love for that dangerous girl you just can’t resist, who is every bit as fiery as the one in Cake’s “Short Skirt, Long Jacket”. Best line is the refrain of “I like her better when she walks away.”

Escovedo has a great range on his guitar playing, and delivers folksy acoustic strumming and full on electric rock solos with equal skill. His throaty vocals match both styles and help hold the record together, which benefits from being a restrained 12 songs in length.

He also employs a string section to good effect, and I think I heard both cello and violin at various times, adding texture and emotional underpinning to the songs.

Wedding Day” is one of those perfect ‘first dance’ songs, and had me thinking happy thoughts about my own wedding day, and that perfect moment when you first see your girl in that dress. That image never leaves you, but it was nice of Escovedo to remind me. A song like “Wedding Day” could easily become sappy, but Escovedo navigates the territory with grace and an honest delivery that holds everything together.

While some songs are more memorable than others, “A Man Under the Influence” doesn’t have any obvious blunders, and plenty of standouts. It is a lush record with a good understanding of how to layer in different instruments to create layered landscapes of music that match well with the emotional snapshots created by Escovedo’s lyrics.

Best tracks: Across the River, Castanets, Don’t Need You, Follow You Down, Wedding Day

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