Wednesday, September 15, 2004

Album Review--Alejandro Escovedo, A Man Under the Influence

As part of this blog I will review one album a week. It may or may not be a new album. My belief is that reviews do not need to be only of the newest movies, books, albums, etc. Rather (especially with music and books) people may not know of older works and that they are useful to bring to light. And with movies, even if its Star Wars, I find it useful to revisit talking about them from time to time.

So today I'd like to review Alejandro Escovedo's Man Under the Influence. Released by Bloodshot in 2001, it is Escovedo's finest work. His combination of rock, country, and punk makes for some of the best music released by anyone in the last 10 years. But to describe as punkabilily or something like that would be wrong. Rather, Escovedo's work consists of rockers with some wonderful slower songs mixed in, including the sublime Rosalie, one of the best songs about the difficulties of being an immigrant that I've ever heard. Castanets, a song about a woman Alejandro hated is a great anthem, with the line "I like her better when she walks away" staying in your head for days. Wave and About This Love are also first class songs and Follow You Down is a wonderful tribute to the sublime singer/songwriter Townes Van Zandt. The music is great as well, especially Brian Standefer on the cello, a really underused instrument that more rock bands should consider utilizing. It really fills out the sound, especially on the slower sound, and provides an alternative to the ever trite guitar/bass/drums trio. I guess it's not cool to sit in a chair during a rock show playing an instrument with a bow. But if you're up for bands that care more about good music than acting cool, this is for you.

What makes this better than other Escovedo albums? I would argue that it is producer Chris Stamey. Escovedo has had other fine albums as well, particularly With These Hands, but the production on this album makes a big difference. Stamey brings in the cello and the pedal steel at the right time, uses special guests on the album to actually help the album (as opposed say, to album with guest vocals by Keith Richards), including Caitlin Cary on violin, and mixes the album wonderfully, highlighting both the music and Escovedo's strong vocals.

Unfortunately, Alejandro Escovedo is very sick with Hepatitis C. Like most musicians he doesn't have any health insurance (thanks Republicans) so he is now broke as well. Thus I also recommend the Escovedo tribute album, Por Vida. A portion of the money goes to paying his bills.