Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Alejandro Escovedo (1999)

No Depression magazine named Sheila E's uncle, Alejandro Escovedo, their artist of the decade for the 1990's. The peculiar thing about this was that they awarded him this honor in mid-1998. Considering the magazine was named for an album by Uncle Tupelo, and that Jay Farrar and Jeff Tweedy were both very relevant throughout the decade, I was slightly appalled. Still, I had to find out what the fuss was all about.

I started with the live compilation More Miles Than Money, released in 1998. I was quite impressed with a handful of songs, especially "Pissed Off 2 A.M.", but I wasn't blown away. I didn't give up, though, even after being quite unenthusiastic about his side project Buick MacKane's 1997 release, The Pawn Shop Years, which also had a few standout tracks, but overall was quite inconsistent.

1999's Bourbinitis Blues was the album that really pulled me in, and 2001's A Man Under the Influence more than reinforced my enthusiasm. Both would make my top ten in their respective years and led to some back catalog exploration with the purchases of Gravity and Thirteen Years.

The quality that made Alejandro stand out most to me was, and still is, his showmanship. He possesses a tremendous gift for engaging an audience, with his music and his storytelling. He's one artist I'd definitely like to meet. He also has a knack for selecting excellent covers to pepper into his shows of mostly originals. The Stooges' "I Wanna Be Your Dog" and Mott the Hoople's "I Wish I Was Your Mother" come to mind.

It was at my first Alejandro show that I was caught in a lie to a current employer. In 2001, I was working part-time as a Reference Librarian at Framingham State College, while working my way through grad school. I worked a couple weeknights from 5-10, in addition to Sundays. One particular weeknight that I was scheduled to work, Alejandro was playing Johnny D's in Somerville. I told the Head Reference Librarian that I needed to leave early that night, and gave some excuse related to my school work. I'm not sure why I didn't just ask for the night off, but I know I felt guilty about leaving early, because this workaholic supervisor of mine would end up working until 10pm after she had already worked a typical 8-5 day.

I met up with Len at this show, and who did I see there but the Library Director, otherwise known as my boss's boss. It was crowded so I was able to avoid her, or so I thought, but I was a little disappointed that I couldn't approach her and discuss our common admiration of the music of Senor Escovedo. As it turns out, I would get the chance. The next day, I received an email from Bonnie, the Director, asking if she'd seen me at the show the night before. I owned up to my mistake in judgment, not to her, but to the supervisor to whom I'd lied. She was surprisingly understanding. Bonnie never revealed that she had any knowledge of my dishonesty, and our Alejandro bond lives on. I've seen her at one show subsequent to this, and every time I talk to her his name comes up. She remains on my list of references to this day.

Last year, apparently I made an offhanded remark to another Director of mine, now my former boss. She had always expressed interest in learning about new and interesting music, of any variety except heavy metal, despite the fact that she is mostly familiar with classical. Near the end of my tenure at my old job, I made a casual mention of Alejandro, and when he played a show late last year at the Museum of Fine Arts, she attended. I showed up at my former employer's Christmas party weeks later, and my former boss Susan, after a few glasses of wine, went on and on raving about the show.

After a 2-plus year bout with Hepatitis C, he released his fine comeback album, The Boxing Mirror, last year. The illness almost killed him, but now everything seems back to normal. I can't think of anyone who is more deserving of a second chance.

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