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Escovedo unleashes his inner animal

Alejandro Escovedo - Real Animal
(Back Porch / Manhattan Records)
4 1/2 stars (out of 5 stars)
Reviewed: Aug. 19, 2008
Alejandro Escovedo

Review by Tony Bonyata

"We're coming on strong like an accident," Alejandro Escovedo growls at one point on his eight solo effort, Real Animal, but while this stunning collection of songs does, in fact, come on strong - quite possible the strongest of his three decade career in music - it's definitely not by accident.

Instead the 57 year-old Austin-based musician pulls in many elements of his storied past; recounting not only his punk rock roots with his late '70s band The Nuns ("Nuns Song") and later in the '80s with Rank and File ("Chip n' Tony"), but also his decadent stay at NYC's infamous Chelsea Hotel when he was a neighbor to The Sex Pistols' Sid Vicious and Nancy Spungen (who he recalls was found "dead on the bathroom floor" on the sinewy punk number "Chelsea Hotel '78"). But just as Escovedo's own solo career has blossomed and matured since the volatile days of his youth, he's also worked in rich roots-based ballads ("Sensitive Boys" and the hauntingly beautiful "Slow Down"), bluesy gospel-infused Americana ("People (We're Only Gonna Live So Long)") as well as crafting one of his most enduring rock numbers ("Always A Friend," a song that even Bruce Springsteen realized the power of as he performed it onstage with Escovedo in Houston in April).

It was only three years ago that Alejandro almost lost his life to a near-fatal bout of Hepatitis C, which he documented on his harrowing 2006 album, The Boxing Mirror. And while he may have exorcised both mental and physical demons from his illness and full recovery on that effort, he's still reminded of it on the number "Golden Bear," where he sings, "There's a creature in my body. There's a creature in my blood. Don't know how long he's been there or why he's after us."

Not only does Escovedo recall much of his own personal past on this album, but he also gives a nod to his own musical idols, such as Iggy Pop on The Stooges-inspired punk of "Real As An Animal," along with multiple references to David Bowie; from utilizing a similar synth-line from The Thin White Duke's "Ashes To Ashes" on "Golden Bear," to procuring both Bowie's longtime producer Tony Visconti, along with his personal photographer, Mick Rock, to take the cover shots for Alejandro's album.

Alejandro has been through a lot in his life and much of it is expertly documented on this fulfilling album. "The past is gone, but it still lives inside of me," he confesses just before the close of the album. But on the same song he also states that "This is where my life begins," which is exactly what it sounds like - an artist at his creative peak with everything ahead of him.

Watch Death Al Green "Lay It Down" video

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