John Metzger's #5 album for 2008
First Appeared in The Music Box, June 2008, Volume 15, #6
Written by John Metzger
Wed June 25, 2008, 06:30 AM CDT
Like 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.
On a musical basis alone, Real Animal is an overwhelming success. It is well-paced and riveting, urgent and pure. It undeniably is an old-fashioned rock ’n‘ roll record, one that is tempered, at times, with some strikingly lovely ballads. Peering deeper into its construction, however, reveals that Real Animal also is a power-packed, emotional roller coaster ride across the peaks and valleys of Escovedo’s life. There are no real regrets, here, just reminiscences as Escovedo — with help from fellow songwriter Chuck Prophet — tries to comprehend the experiences that have made him who he is today. Each track provides an intimate glimpse at an image that shaped his past: In Chelsea Hotel ’78, for example, he captures the New York City setting where Sid allegedly killed Nancy, while Chip N’ Tony and Nuns Song recall his days with Rank & File and The Nuns, respectively.
Everything about Real Animal — from the photograph by Mick Rock that graces its cover to its glam-and-punk-imbued interior — embraces the aura of Escovedo’s 30-year-old memories. The invincibility of his youth may have been shattered by the realities of his life, but in rock ’n‘ roll, everything timelessly lives on.
Of Further Interest...
Real Animal is available
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1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
Copyright © 2008 The Music Box