GET IT ON! The new disc joins Escovedo’s noirish and glitter sides — a rock-and-roll album that can match his beloved T. Rex singles for pure exhilaration.
As a songwriter, Alejandro Escovedo is steeped in deep, brooding, film-noir Americana. But he's also a devout fan of cheap-thrill glitter rock, especially the fast and flashy singles that T. Rex and Mott the Hoople made in the '70s. If you can reconcile that musical contradiction, you've got the key to his career.
For the better part of 30 years, Escovedo kept his poetic and glitter-rock sides separate, even forming a separate band, Buick Mackane, for the latter. But that's changed in the past half-decade, which has given the Austin-based songwriter a whole lot to write about: a near-fatal bout with hepatitis C (which inspired 2006's cathartic The Boxing Mirror) followed by a rediscovery of his rock-and-roll past (2008's Real Animal, which included songs about his early bands Rank & File and the Nuns). Now he's found romance, and the new Street Songs of Love (Fantasy) is just what the occasion calls for: a rock-and-roll album that can match his beloved T. Rex singles for pure exhilaration.
But instead of accepting happy endings, Escovedo celebrates the messiness of love and a new lease on life that comes without guarantees. "Sometimes you gotta lose it just to find it just to lose it again," he notes during "Faith," putting some real-life ambiguity into an otherwise rousing anthem (complete with guest shout-along from Bruce Springsteen). On the disc's standout ballad, he asks only to "Fall Apart with You," romance and danger going hand in hand. And on "This Bed Is Getting Crowded," he asks, "Are you here with me, or are we both here with him?" — a line that New York Times reviewer Jon Pareles found puzzling, but a common enough question when you and your partner both have the ghosts of past lovers hanging around.
Seventies echoes pop up like guardian angels throughout. A female chorus beckons on "Meteor Shower" (cue Lou Reed's "Street Hassle"); Mott's Ian Hunter turns up to sing a verse on "Down in the Bowery," and "Fall Apart with You" has the backstreet NYC feel of Mink DeVille. You'd think that producer Tony Visconti — who helmed T. Rex's glory days and Bowie's Berlin trilogy — would seal the throwback deal, but he does just the opposite. The sound is live and sweaty, true to the album's origins, when Escovedo broke the songs in during a weekly residency at Austin's Continental Club.
"The label was telling me, 'We want you to make a rock record,' " he recalls during a phone call from Austin. "And I said, okay — give me an example of what that is. And they came up with all these weird things — the Replacements, okay, but there's a lot of beautiful ballads there. Exile on Main Street — same thing, tons of ballads. So I decided it's more about the attitude and how you play things rather than the tempo."
Explaining his attraction to the glitter era, he notes that "it's really where I got a lot of my philosophical outlook on life. You had people like Bowie and Ian Hunter and Marc Bolan, who were trying to say something about the people around them and the world they were part of."