Alejandro Escovedo with special guest James Mastro
No one has really ever been able to define themselves and their music like singer-songwriter Alejandro Escovedo does. His life in music of all kinds sometimes feels like a swirl through the sky, where his songs point out all the majesty and mystery of how he sees the world. The sounds he makes take him places that he might not even predict, but once there, greatness always follows. It's just the way Escovedo is. It has happened over and over for decades, almost like a fateful agreement he has with the cosmos. There is a good chance it cannot be explained, especially by him.
Maybe that's because this is a musician who feels magic, both in himself and the world around him, and is open to the experience of whatever comes his way. It is not always easy, and can have a high demand on how a person lives. But it is the way that Escovedo is always moving forward.
On this new album, Alejandro Escovedo has taken a road rarely traveled, which is totally in keeping with how he has lived his life in music. Echo Dancing is an experiment in how to use the past to shape the future. By recording completely new and repurposed versions of songs from his past, Escovedo actually gets a chance to rewrite his own history. It's also an idea that pushes growth into the present, and asks an artist to see themselves anew. "I always feel that a well-written song can withstand a lot of abuse," Escovedo says. It is an area of creativity that the man has always honored. "Turning a past song inside out leads to discovery of new ideas you might not have understood about the song," he says. "Even lyrical refurbishing has proven helpful and effective. It's like interpreting your own work anew. The songs never seem to be complete. They are always evolving."
And with those words, Alejandro Escovedo succinctly explains the new levels of artistic exploration he's undertaken on his new album. It's a unique adventure into recording new versions of songs from his past, and approaching them as challenges to totally express what the music means to him today. Songs like "Bury Me" and "Castañuelas," while they were powerful in their original form several years ago, now announce themselves as highlights of Escovedo's long career. They speak to an eternal world that lives inside so much of his music, like it was formed in a way that cannot age. There is something very permanent in the career of the Texas- born artist, an inner flame that is always there. It feels like it is a part of musical history that is rarely captured at such peak performance, let alone reappears with a new life. If the life of an artist is always to push ahead, to leave what was done alone in favor of contemporary creations, then Escovedo's basic concept of Echo Dancing is a revolutionary concept of high beliefs. That the past can live again as a reborn entity.
"I was planning this record just prior to boarding a plane to Italy to record with Don Antonio and Nicola Peruch," Escovedo says. "My original idea was to record an album of new material. But then I changed my mind and thought that revisiting songs from my various past albums throughout my career would be more interesting. I have a great faith in these two artists to always create something interesting with whatever I might bring to the session. These songs were already dressed for the dance."
Everything on Echo Dancing has a feeling of absolute freshness about it, and at the same time,
there is a strong link to the past. It's almost like reincarnation in the recording studio, but everything seems brand new. All the musicians are dedicated to finding the new amongst the songs' prior history. It is not something that happens often, and it surely has never occurred quite like it does on this fascinating new collection.
Alejandro Escovedo knew that an experience like the one he was embarking on needed all the freshness he could find, and off he went to Italy. Sometimes there are now choices in how to approach a new vision. It simply has to be started with total dedication. "I find that recording in a foreign country opens the creative eye in a way that working at home lacks," he says. And the way the experiment works was proof that today's approach to these songs has a rock-solid beauty to it. A new sonic world has opened. "Surprises were a daily occurance," the musician says, "and we embraced them with exuberance. Is it the beginning or the end? I feel there have always been certain songs on my albums that have guided me to new approaches in my music. That is really the goal of recording. To keep moving forward no matter what it takes. That's why I continue to work on new ways to tell these stories."
Truer words were never spoken than Alejandro Escovedo's love for exploration in the music he writes and plays. The son of a Mexican immigrant and a Texas native, the sounds that Escovedo first discovered and then performed morphed into all kinds of exciting styles of his life. A member of the first-wave punk rock group The Nuns in San Francisco, he moved to New York and joined the Judy Nylon band and experienced the total electricity of the late 1970s there. Moving then to Austin was a radical shift of geography and musical style when Escovedo helped form one of the country's first so-called Cowpunk adventurers. It often seems like the man has been on a pirate-like adventure through the kinds of music he is drawn to. Those sounds are usually new and often have a strong edge of the avant-garde in them. Deeply embedded in the burgeoning Austin scene in the 1980s, Escovedo was a prime architect in the new band True Believers, which included his brother Javier and Jon Dee Graham. In many ways the band helped build the gateway to the whole burgeoning Americana music scene which prospers to this day, but it was also the turning point for Alejandro Escovedo to take his
life in his control and record solo albums. In the thirty-plus years since that decision has come a wild roller-coaster ride of groups, spinoffs, tribute albums and even original dramatic projects and experiments. In 1998, No Depression Magazine named him Artist of the Decade. For this musician, though, that was just the start of a life that twists and turns wherever Escovedo's clearly uninhibited imagination takes him.
The 21st century has been a time of widely successful excursions that only a few American musicians are able to create. Between adventurous solo albums, continuing collaborations with other musicians, and an ever-growing sense of boundary-breaking, Alejandro Escovedo has created his own definition of what a modern rock artist can accomplish. Which is exactly why Echo Dancing comes at the perfect time for this man. While it does seem Escovedo has his own category of accomplishments, to now bring together these songs he has previously recorded and inject such exciting new and different life into them is a complete exoneration of his belief in the future.
"I said goodbye to certain phases of my life as I have grown," the musician says. "I greeted new acquaintances musically. And I was extremely surprised by the outcome. That is the thrill of being alive. I feel we have now made a beautiful collection of songs recorded in an effortless vibe of collaboration and camaraderie. I can't give Nicola and Antonio enough credit and thanks for their musicianship and wide-open approach to making this album. And I should also mention Ivano Giovedi, who incredibly engineered the recordings. He did an amazing job."
"Everyone involved has guided me to new approaches to my music, like other musicians have my whole life. I have always worked hard to discover new ways to tell the story. I've never hidden my love for Brian Eno, Roxy Music, Judy Nylon, Cluster, along with the Stooges, New York Dolls, MC5, Roky Erickson, Lightnin' Hopkins, Joe Ely, Terry Allen; you get the picture. There is always more work to be done and joy to be made. I am nowhere near finished.
Echo Dancing makes sure Alejandro Escovedo's evolving circle remains unbroken.