Alejandro Escovedo Burn Something Beautiful

Alejandro Escovedo Burn Something Beautiful
9
He's never achieved the commercial recognition his incredible body of work has deserved over the past three decades, but few artists have scored as much peer respect as masterful Texas-based singer/songwriter Alejandro Escovedo. Those comrades rallied in support during his near-fatal battle with hepatitis C back in 2004, and now two musical kindred spirits play a big part in Burn Something Beautiful; though billed as a solo album, it features huge contributions from Peter Buck (R.E.M.) and Scott McCaughey (the Minus 5), who not only co-wrote the songs with Escovedo but jointly produced the record.
 
The result is a superb rock'n'roll record, bristling with energy and defiance while digging deep lyrically. To these ears, Escovedo's recent albums have been a touch uneven in quality, but there are no duds on this generous collection of 13 tracks. He's gone through more tough times of late, included a diagnosis of PTSD, and some of those trials are explored here, as on "Farewell to the Good Times" and "I Don't Want to Play Guitar Anymore." On that latter song, he laments that "I don't know if I'm dying, but I can't catch my breath / No stories left to sing."
 
Fortunately, elsewhere he beats this despair to let rip with a brand of truly bracing guitar rock'n'roll rarely heard these days. Boosting the sound is the work of such top-notch players and backing singers as guitarist Kurt Bloch (the Fastbacks), drummer John Moen (the Decemberists), vocalists Corin Tucker (Sleater-Kinney) and Kelly Hogan (Neko Case) and saxophonist Steve Berlin (Los Lobos). Such long-time influences on Escovedo as the Velvet Underground and glam rock are again evident here (as on the VU-styled drone and references to Max's and St. Marks Place, as well as a New York Dolls lyric lift, on "Johnny Volume"). The combination of lacerating guitar and backing vocals on that cut makes for a full-blooded wall of sound. You can spot the ghost of T. Rex looming over "Beauty of Your Smile" and "Shave the Cat," but it's a happy ghost.
 
It's not all full-on guitars here, though, and the sparse and haunting "Redemption Blues" confirms the emotional power of Escovedo's vocals. This is the voice of a man who has stared into the abyss, but thankfully has survived. Aptly titled, this record burns just so beautifully. (Fantasy)