Review : Alejandro Escovedo - Real Animal
Musicbox-onlineLike most musicians, Alejandro Escovedo has lived a hard life. In Escovedo’s case, the alcohol-soaked intensity of his nomadic existence nearly killed him when, in 2003, his Hepatitis C flared up so badly that it sent him to the hospital vomiting blood. No one expected Escovedo to survive the ordeal, though fans and colleagues quickly rallied to his cause, providing the necessary financial and moral support for him to escape from death’s grip.
The Boxing Mirror, Escovedo’s first foray in the wake of his illness, was produced under the guidance of John Cale. By design, it was as confused and woozy as the thoughts in Escovedo’s head. The set received a wealth of critical praise, but while all of the attention was long overdue, the response also was somewhat puzzling, considering that Escovedo’s earlier and better albums unjustly had been ignored. Still, there is no denying that some of The Boxing Mirror’s individual tracks were as finely crafted as any of the songs in his canon, thus giving plenty of indications that, with time, he eventually would regain his footing.
Not surprisingly, Real Animal, Escovedo’s latest endeavor, follows a path that is similarly reflective. After all, how could anyone experience what he had — which, in addition to his own illness, included the death of his father and the blossoming of a new relationship — and not try to make sense of it all. Real Animal is, however, an outing that is far more focused. Where The Boxing Mirror was a missive from the middle of Escovedo’s personal maelstrom, Real Animal was penned with the wisdom of hindsight. Its straightforwardness provides clarity, and the result is that the outing is the finest, most cohesive collection of material that Escovedo ever has assembled.
Of course, anyone who has followed his career — from his work with The Nuns through his recordings for Bloodshot — knows that Escovedo always has had a fondness for the music of Lou Reed, David Bowie, Mott the Hoople, and Iggy Pop. With Real Animal, Escovedo indulges himself by paying tribute to his heroes without ever losing his identity to the process. Throughout the collection, he slyly bends his voice to capture the vocal inflections of Ian Hunter and Mick Jagger. The arrangements that surround him shift from the crunchy hard rock of Smoke to the chamber-folk ballad Swallows of San Juan and from the cowpunk charge of Chip N’ Tony to the somber acceptance of the album’s final cut Slow Down....full text
AllmusicIt may be simplistic to describe Alejandro Escovedo's 2006 album The Boxing Mirror as a record inspired by the artist's brush with death, but given the record's back story -- it was recorded as Escovedo was recovering from a near-fatal bout with Hepatitis C -- it's hard not to imagine its brave and often dazzling creative ambition was fueled by Escovedo's knowledge that these could be his last words as a musician. Two years later, a healthier and stronger Escovedo returned to the studio to record his ninth studio album, Real Animal, and by comparison this is a leaner, more tightly focused session; in fact, this is the strongest rock album Escovedo has made since his 1997 album with Buick MacKane, The Pawn Shop Years. It's easy to tag Real Animal as a less ambitious and artful collection than The Boxing Mirror, but viewed on its own merits this ranks with the best and most powerful music of Escovedo's career. Like The Boxing Mirror, which was produced by John Cale, Real Animal was recorded with a producer who worked with some of Escovedo's primal influences, Tony Visconti, and his recordings with David Bowie and T. Rex doubtless helped him connect with Escovedo the smart but swaggering rocker in a way Cale did not; this set of songs is every bit as intelligent and emotionally resonant as Escovedo's best work, but it moves with a taut energy and insistent force that informs even the quieter, acoustic oriented numbers, such as the bluesy "People (We're Only Gonna Live So Long)," and the plaintive "Hollywood Hills." While Escovedo wrote the tunes on Real Animal with Chuck Prophet, the songs bear his stylistic hallmarks and melodic sensibilities throughout, and these stories are dotted with places and events from Escovedo's past -- discovering music as a kid ("Golden Bear"), his days as a San Francisco punk rocker ("Nun's Song"), flirting with the New York bohemian scene ("Chelsea Hotel '78"), and barnstorming with a rock & roll band ("Chip 'N' Tony"). Even when the cues to Escovedo's past aren't obvious, there's too much heart, soul, and blood in this music to not to have come directly from his heart, and he's seemingly incapable of singing from any other place, giving this music an emotional power that reaches down to the soul. If The Boxing Mirror was a work influenced by the shadow of mortality, Real Animal is an album about life -- both as survival and as the faces and moments that fill our days on this Earth. How many artists could make two masterpieces in a row that are so different? And how much do you want to bet that Escovedo still has one or two more records this good in him?...full text
AustinchronicleAlejandro Escovedo never just wore his heart on his sleeve. He's laboriously stitched his very soul into his material, beginning with his earliest compositions. As a musician, he nearly self-destructed, rising like a phoenix and reinventing himself amid marriages, suicide, several generations of children, life-threatening disease, and a remarkable gift for songwriting. With a panoply of career-defining albums to his name, Real Animal maps that journey without misstep. It doesn't hurt that roots-quaking guitarist and peer Chuck Prophet co-wrote with Escovedo or that production by Tony Visconti (David Bowie, T. Rex, Thin Lizzy) feeds Animal a sharper edge ("Smoke"). "We don't want your approval – it's 1978," throws down the opening lines of "Nuns Song" well into the album, a challenge also tossed out on the second track, the brutal "Chelsea Hotel '78." In that, Escovedo revisits New York's famed residence hotel as unwitting lyrical witness to Sid and Nancy's decline, while "Real as an Animal" pounds Iggy Pop's sex-beat and "Chip n' Tony" twangs with cow-punk abandon. "Hollywood Hills" posits Springsteen lovers from New Jersey into the neon lure of California next to the elegiac "Swallows of San Juan." And Real Animal bleeds, as on "Golden Bear," Escovedo's melancholy "Wicked Game"-by-way-of-"Ashes to Ashes" conversation with hepatitis C. "Why me?" he sings, throbbing with exquisite pain and no soft solution in reply. Maybe the answer is in the bluesy "People," the singer musing that "we still got time, but never as much as we think." For Escovedo fans that have followed the local star through the Nuns, Rank and File, the True Believers, and Buick MacKane, Real Animal bares teeth and soul in rock & roll payback....full text
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