Por Vida: A Tribute to the
Songs of Alejandro Escovedo
First Appeared in The Music Box, August 2004, Volume 11, #8
Written by John Metzger
Alejandro Escovedo routinely kept a hectic touring schedule, but on April 26, 2003, everything changed for the worse. Shortly after a concert in Phoenix, Arizona, the acclaimed singer, songwriter, and playwright collapsed and was taken to a local hospital where he was diagnosed with complications resulting from hepatitis C, a liver disease he had been coping with for years. Following his discharge, Escovedo traveled home to Canyon Lake, Texas in order to recuperate and receive additional treatment for his condition. Like many artists (and working class members of American society), however, he didn’t have any form of health or disability insurance upon which to rely for sustenance, and as a result, his rapidly mounting medical bills — not to mention the loss of income from his inability to perform — was devastating.
Fortunately, what Escovedo does have is a wealth of family, friends, acquaintances, and admirers, all of whom have come together to raise funds to support him in his time of need. Initially, a variety of concerts were held throughout the country with performers appearing free-of-charge to raise both awareness and financial aid for his situation. The latest offering of glad tidings, which admirably also will begin a campaign to assist other artists afflicted with hepatitis C, comes in the form of Por Vida: A Tribute to the Songs of Alejandro Escovedo. Like most compilations of cover songs, the set is a somewhat uneven affair, but then again, with two discs featuring 32 tracks that span nearly 140 minutes, there are bound to be a few lesser moments. Fortunately, the weaker tunes — such as Los Lonely Boys’ arena rock rendition of Castanets; Ian McLagen’s perfunctory run through Wedding Day; and Caitlin Cary’s solid, but otherwise unremarkable version of By Eleven — are, at worst, merely rote representations of Escovedo’s work that slow down, but never come close to sinking the overall package.
As for the bulk of Por Vida, it showcases a broad range of top-notch material, all of which is delivered with the sort of passion and conviction one would expect from such a stellar array of talent. Lucinda Williams embalms Pyramid of Tears in a dark and swirling blues groove; Bob Neuwirth interprets Rosalie as an excruciatingly haunted ballad; Tres Chicas flawlessly harmonizes on Rhapsody, while The Jayhawks immerses Last to Know in a dream-pop twist on The Byrds; Son Volt turns Sometimes into a churning anthem; and Jennifer Warnes’ anguished take on Pissed Off 2AM is surprisingly heartfelt and resonant. Elsewhere, Rosie Flores offers a sensual reading of Inside This Dance; the Section String Quartet transforms Crooked Frame into a delightfully brilliant instrumental gem; Charlie Musselwhite and Charlie Sexton unite to explore the dark corners of Everybody Loves Me; Lenny Kaye turns Sacramento & Polk from a writhing frenzy into a measured psychedelic affair; and the exquisite duet between Jon Langford and Sally Timms on Broken Bottle perfectly encapsulates the song’s heavy-hearted sense of despair.
The icing on the proverbial cake, however, is Por Vida’s concluding track Break This Time, a scorching new addition to Escovedo’s formidable arsenal. He thrashes it to maximum effect, although one wishes it didn’t fade quite so quickly into the twilight, cutting short an incendiary guitar solo that should have been allowed to linger just a little longer. Even so, the one thing fans and newcomers alike will take away from Por Vida is a deeper appreciation for Escovedo’s talent as a songwriter simply because his melodies are so indelible, his words so pure, simple, honest, and true. ½
Por Vida: A Tribute to the Songs of Alejandro Escovedo 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 © 2004 The Music Box