We'll just go ahead and speak the sweet and simple truth here, goddamn it: Alejandro Escovedo is one of the greatest, most inventive singer/songwriters this county has ever produced. So what if he bailed 30 years ago for San Francisco (where he started the Nuns, by most accounts a completely wretched punk band who yet were good enough—or completely wretched enough—to open for the Sex Pistols)? So what if his post-Nuns bands Rank & File and the True Believers were commercial (though not artistic) failures? So what if he's better-known these days as a product of the rich musical heritage of Austin, Texas, where he has lived since the early '80s? Alejandro is ours.
His songs make you want to cry, fall in love and get hammered, all at the same time. Listen to the opening line on his last album, Bourbonitis Blues: "I was drunk/I was down/I was wandering 'round my bed/Called out your name." Alcoholism, depression, uncertainty and unrequited passion, all within the first few seconds. That's part of his evocative, mood-setting genius: he scoops out those awful, buried memories of every tragedy you've endured and asks you to face them. Then he snatches them back, flips them over and blows them up with some of the nastiest, gnarliest Stones-style rock & roll, stuff the best bar bands can only dream of pulling off. It's as if he puts you down just to bring you back up—lets you wallow in your despair and then rejoice in the possibilities of tomorrow.
He can also pull off some pretty weird shit, too, like mixing cellos and violins with punk rock, which really shouldn't work. But damn if you won't change your mind if ever you find yourself in a dank Austin bar some sticky evening with your lips wrapped around the ribbed neck of a Shiner Bock bottle, and those cellos and violins crash into Alejandro's guitar and spit out the wickedest cover of "I Wanna Be Your Dog" you'll ever hear. It's mind-altering, life-changing stuff, not unlike the revelations you can get by staring at a Jackson Pollock or Hieronymous Bosch painting: look long enough, and you'll find where the universe is hiding.
Now he's got a new album, A Man Under the Influence, yet another gem of wrenching heartbreaks, coveted lusts, drunken barroom shout-alongs, orchestral maneuvers, poetic departures and, oddly, an optimistic wedding song (but jacked up with just the right amounts of dirty steel guitar to keep it from getting schmaltzy). The music is atmospheric and soul-stroking, like prime Van Morrison. Really, Alejandro's a diamond, meant for everyone with a complaint about the catatonic claptrap heard 'round the radio dial.
Alejandro Escovedo performs at the Blue Cafe, 210 The Promenade, Long Beach, (562) 983-7111. Wed., 9 p.m. $5. 21+.
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