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Music Review: Alejandro Escovedo – Real Animal

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The latest offering from Alejandro Escovedo is a powerful musical diary entry. It is a quirky and catchy and completely pleasant album that is nicely polished – produced by old Escovedo friend Tony Visconti – and unique.

This is Escovedo’s 10th solo album and he continues to write charming, sharp, witty, touching songs each and every time. He is a master songwriter and touches souls in a way that never goes wrong, similar to Damien Jurado or Mark Kozelek of Red House Painters and Sun Kil Moon.

His sound is a mix of Elvis Costello, Billy Bragg, and Jurado. His background was in punk bands and he still rocks out, but the beauty of his songs is the musical texture, and the ebbs and flows.

Real Animal is a 13-track effort put out on Back Porch/Manhattan Records and is Escovedo at his finest. He is brash and beautiful on the album, plaintive and playful, alt-country, punk rocker, and troubadour. He always writes and sings in a straightforward way and the lyrics are personal stories from a private notebook. On “Sister Lost Soul” Escovedo sings about the sadness of losing loved ones “Nobody left here unbroken/Nobody left her unscarred/Nobody here is talking/That’s just the way things are/ You had to go without me/You wandered off alone/And all the neon light reflecting off the sidewalk/Only reminds me you’re not coming home.”

The song “Chelsea Hotel ‘78” tells the story of a man living in a rock 'n' roll hotel “And it makes no sense/And it makes perfect sense.” A couple songs just have feel good lyrics about friendship and goodwill “People (We’re only gonna live so long)” and “Always a Friend,” and “Swallows of San Juan,” and “Slow Down” are downbeat ballads. Every song is infused with Escovedo’s unique viewpoints, heartache, and joy.

The album feels so real because it covers the gamut of emotions and lets the listener in. It is easy to identify with Escovedo. His voice is sturdy but gloomy, then excited and then hopeful and he weaves all of it together nicely on Real Animal.

Escovedo’s band – David Pulkingham on guitar and keyboards, Chuck Prophet on guitar, Josh Gravelin on bass and keyboards, Hector Munoz on drums, Susan Voelz on violin, Brian Standler on cello – is a perfect unit. The drums and bass always keep the songs steady, the violin adds a wonderful layer of sadness but also a spastic layer, and the guitars guide the mood, staying low key sometimes and ratcheting it up on other songs. There are also some organs, and saxophones added in on the album the help it function on additional levels and brings out even more emotions.

This album is a lovely effort. It is paced nicely, has a good mixture of rockers and dusty lullabies and the track order keeps things very upbeat and interesting. “Real as an Animal” is a rocker and so is “Chelsea Hotel ‘78” and they are probably the most powerful songs on the album, along with the bouncy “Smoke.” Escovedo’s punk rock background keeps things pounding and joyful, the slow ballads keep things thoughtful and touching and, in the end, Real Animal keeps Escovedo firmly in place as one of the most wonderful songwriters of this era.

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