Street Songs of Love
First Appeared in The Music Box, September 2010, Volume 17, #9
Written by John Metzger
Thu September 16, 2010, 06:30 AM CDT
Over the course of his last two efforts, Alejandro Escovedo has devoted a lot of time to rummaging through his past: The Boxing Mirror dealt directly with his near-death experience, while Real Animal was assembled around images that had been plucked from his formative years. Although the tracks on his latest outing Street Songs of Love undoubtedly are rooted in real-life relationships and experiences, the album also feels less autobiographical — and, hence, more universal — than his other recent endeavors. It also sounds as if Escovedo finally has calmed his mind enough to relax. At the same time, though, the straightforward nature of the set (as well as Real Animal) could be attributed just as easily to the advice of his new manager Jon Landau. Landau, of course, is best-known as the guiding force behind Bruce Springsteen’s career.
Closer in tone to Escovedo’s early albums, Street Songs of Love is built around the concept defined by its title. Each track is a reflection upon a relationship, and although professions of love and expressions of anger are scattered throughout the set, Escovedo mostly trolls through the murky, conflicted moments when heart and mind fail to agree. When he pledges his devotion, he often knows it is in vain, and sometimes, he settles for a physical connection, even though he often yearns for something greater.
Throughout Street Songs of Love, Escovedo, once again, is united with songwriter Chuck Prophet and producer Tony Visconti, both of whom helped him shape Real Animal. Consequently, the set continues Escovedo’s trend of pairing insistent music with poetic lyrics to create something that is urgent and emotional. The tenderness of Down in the Bowery, an ode to his son Paris, is countered by the gritty charge of Silver Cloud. Elsewhere, Tula’s haunted, intoxicating atmosphere is made darker in the wake of the sleazy grit of This Bed Is Getting Crowded.
Escovedo’s output has never been particularly ragged. Nevertheless, the one change that Escovedo did make while bringing Street Songs of Love to fruition was to file down the rougher contours of his work. Bearing the fingerprints of Landau’s input, several tracks — most notably, Anchor, Undesired, Shelling Rain, and Faith — have been polished into giant, arena-ready anthems. Both Springsteen and Ian Hunter make low-key appearances on the set, adding their voices to Faith and Down in the Bowery, respectively, leaving little doubt that the goal for the project was to raise Escovedo’s profile considerably.
It is doubtful that this strategy will work nearly as well for Escovedo as it has for Springsteen. The two artists are at entirely different points in their careers. While Springsteen is utilizing the formula to maintain his base of fans, Escovedo is still trying to expand beyond the small venues in which he has grown accustomed to performing. To some degree, Escovedo’s bid might work, though it is difficult to imagine he is ever going to be filling stadiums. Fortunately, his true personality slips through the shiny facade that was erected around Street Songs of Love, and whenever it does, the album assumes the poignancy of his finest work. ˝
Of Further Interest...
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1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
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