Through hard work (and his share of the hard life), Alejandro Escovedo transformed himself into one of the premier artists in Americana, a smooth stylistic shapechanger capable of stunning literary and sonic flourishes. The Crossing (Yep Roc), Escovedo’s new 17-track concept album about the immigrant experience in America, delivers everything you would expect from a master artist. As deeply personal and intimate as it is political—and it is very political—it is as much a compelling narrative. Moreover, this achingly beautiful reflection on our times is one of the finest albums of the year.
Co-writing with Antonio Gramentiere, Escovedo unveils a politically charged story made all the richer for the details he plucks from his own life, lending depth to his characters. Critics will be caught by the ominous poignancy of lines like “These men who hunt us / Know nothing of our lives” in “Footsteps In the Shadows,” and they will note their social relevance. But the social relevance in this album is baked into the storytelling, and, like any great writer, Escovedo creates versimilitude with his use of detail. In “Teenage Luggage,” he sings with authority, “Outside of Lubbock we got picked up / By a cowboy named Joe,” because he’s talking about his friend, Joe Ely, the celebrated Americana artists (click here for my review of their show together). Such seemingly mundane details help temper the weight of the issues Escovedo is dealing with as is his penetrating humor on “Rio Navidad” when his character suggests that Europeans are the “real wetbacks” for crossing the Atlantic
Escovedo’s decision to record outside the US for the first time paid off, as the European musicians he worked with give The Crossing a lush feeling, accentuated by the string sounds of the Prague Symphony Orchestra, especially on the instrumental lead track, “Andare.” Escovedo is known for his use with strings, and the violin, viola, and cello are exceptional here. The core group of Italian musicians more than capably follows Escovedo through his stylistic departures, which range from Latin to orchestral to indie to roots rock. Even in his late ’60s, Escovedo continues to push himself and the boundaries of Americana.
In addition to superlative writing and top-shelf music, The Crossing features exciting guest appearances. Joe Ely doesn’t just appear in the lyrics; he performs on the album, as do Peter Perrett and John Perry of English rock band The Only Ones, Wayne Kramer of MC5, and James Williamson of the Stooges. These are Easter Eggs, extra goodies in a product that stands proudly and completely on its own excellence. Perhaps we expected nothing less of Alejandro Escovedo, but he has delivered one of the best albums of the year. Get your copy here: http://www.alejandroescovedo.com/