Alejandro Escovedo with The Mastersons - 1/18
at City Winery New York City
“I can take a punch, I can take a swing,” sings Alejandro Escovedo on “Man of the World,” the opening salvo of Big Station, his new album on Fantasy Records. The two phrases well describe his 35 years as a musician and two decades as a solo artist, the sum of which attests to the redemptive power of rock’n’roll and the driving role that it has played in his life and art.
A stylistic synthesist who Rolling Stone notes “is in his own genre,” Escovedo casts his widest musical net to date on Big Station. The title can infer two meanings: A transit junction where journeys converge and then head off to new destinations, and a potent radio signal with an open playlist that brims with diversity and adventurous imagination.
The album begins with a blast of tongue-in-cheek bravado on “Man of the World” set to a shimmering meld of classic guitar rock and new wave bop. Themes of transition are the fulcrum for songs like the syncopated bounce of the title track and the ghostly march of “Sally Was A Cop,” which surveys the havoc wrought by Mexico’s drug cartels. A jazzy muted trumpet and saxophone weave through his rumination on love and determination on “Can’t Make Me Run.” Change, decay and Escovedo’s place in the world are explored in songs that touch down in the city where he has lived for decades, Austin, TX, as well as his nearby birthplace on, respectively, the Dylanesque “The Bottom of the World” and the dark-hued melodicism of “San Antonio Rain.”
He reflects on characters from his rebel past with searing tension on “Headstrong Crazy Fools,” while the specter of failed romance wafts through the airy “Never Stood A Chance” and “Too Many Tears” simmers with the friction of desire rubbing up against heartbreak. Rocking danceable grooves drive his existential questions on “Common Mistake” and the celebratory hedonism of “Party People.” Escovedo finally wraps up the set by splicing his Chicano roots with modernism on his first number sung in Spanish, “Sabor a Mi,” a classic Latin pop song from 1959 that has also been recorded by Vicki Carr, Luis Miguel, Los Lobos and many others.
As with his previous two albums, Escovedo collaborated with Chuck Prophet on most of the songs on Big Station. Likewise, it’s his third outing produced by Tony Visconti, known for his work with David Bowie, T. Rex, Thin Lizzy and many others. “He’s like a member of the band by now,” Escovedo says of Visconti, who shares songwriting credit on two numbers. The album was recorded in Austin with his group The Sensitive Boys at its core alongside his backing singers Karla Manzur and Gina Holton, whose vocal accents, enhancements and harmonies weave spells throughout the disc.
Ultimately he has continued to creatively thrive by following a basic guiding precept passed to him by his older brothers: “If it’s all about the music then let it be about the music,” insists Escovedo. By doing so he has served his music well while it has at the same time carried and comforted him through life’s turns and travails. As a result his listeners reap a bounty of all but incomparable richness, depth and emotional impact from a truly great American musical artist.