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Alejandro Escovedo

by Zane Ewton

Alejandro Escovedo - The Boxing Mirror

Admittedly, I knew nothing of Alejandro Escovedo. Some background should help to shed some light on what critics are claiming (and rightfully so) is Escovedo's masterwork, The Boxing Mirror. 

Escovedo's career began in the '70s as a member of punk band the Nuns before forming the promising Rank and File, who blended country, rock and punk on one release, 1979's Sundown. Another promising but ultimately failing band, the True Believers, ended the 1980's with a thud for Escovedo.

However, Escovedo has spent the last decade building a solo career with albums that are always critically acclaimed, along with the support of a growing following. In 2003, Escovedo collapses on stage and was later diagnosed with hepatitis C. His fellow musicians were quick to respond with benefit concerts and a tribute album in an effort to relieve his medical expenses.

What better way to come back from a serious setback than to craft an album that is as close to perfect as possible? The Boxing Mirror is a deep, engaging and emotional record. So many musical elements came together to create songs that are creepy, heartwarming, uplifting, reflective, sparse, pretty, and rocking. Sometimes all of those elements in one single song.

Album opener "Arizona" lays such a dark and deflated mood that four minutes into the record you have been taken so low it feels there may be no recovery. The mood doesn't lighten much throughout songs like "Dear Head on the Wall" or "Looking for Love", but the music is so appealing that it is impossible not to follow along.

Not until track six does Escovedo turn up the guitars and let loose on the rocking "Break this Time." "Sacramento & Polk" crunches with some Stooges swagger before fading into the absolutely beautiful "Died a Little Today."

The musicianship throughout is undeniable, Escovedo's vocals and guitar playing is inspired and is the cornerstone of the album. It has been a pleasure to learn a little about this man and his music. The Boxing Mirror is a must listen.


Inside Track with Alejandro

Now Alejandro gives us the Inside Track for every song on The Boxing Mirror!

It was the first song I wrote after getting sick. Lyrically, it's pretty simple, but it's what I was feeling at the time. Arizona has a lot of significance for me now. It's where I met Kim. It's where I was when my body broke down. It's where I recovered and got myself together just enough to get back home to Texas. I spent a lot of time in the desert in that month that I was there, just walking around trying to figure things out. I think it's a powerful statement of what was going on. It's about the allure of those things that I think we sometimes need when we feel a lot of pain. And we all feel the pain. We're all suffering. I tried to drink it away. I tried to smoke it away. I did a lot of things to numb myself to it. I can't drink anymore. If I drank I'd kill myself.

Dearhead On The Wall
It's from a Kim Christoff poem. She used to call me from out in the middle of nowhere in Arizona where she lived in this trailer where she would just write and do her meditation. And she was teaching at Arizona State University. We would have these all night conversations. And sometimes she would call me from this steakhouse nearby and talk about all the stuffed deer heads up on the wall. I remember when she first moved to Austin, we were living in this tiny apartment with three of my kids over behind Barton Springs. One night we were sitting out on this little patio we had. And I said, your lyrics are really interesting and great. Why don't we see if we can make them into a song? And I had these chords that were kind of like a Bowie Space Oddity thing. The poem is her speaking to the deer head in the wall about all the emptiness and sadness she saw in it. I think it's a beautiful poem about death and sadness and the emptiness that's kind of a Buddhist goal.

Notes On Air
It's another Kim Christoff poem. The music was written by Rob Gjersoe, Brian Standefer and Bukka Allen. And then I brought Kim's lyrics in because I loved them. I wanted to that song on this record because I think we got such a really cool version of it, and Jon Dee's lap steel work on it is just spectacular. I love that lyric of hers that says, "You see a buck from the sky trample the wandering doe." And that was from a cloud formation in which she saw the buck and the doe. Her whole thing is about the sound of the words and where they're placed and the rhythm and all that stuff. She talks about things that I still don't understand about writing poetry.

One True Love
I wasn't sure about that song and was ready to chuck it. It's just talking about how love just comes out of nowhere and sideswipes you over a few lanes and really blindsides you. It's funny, because the "one true love" thing was always what people were always grabbing on to. And Cale wanted to make sure that not looking for love is what the song is about. And he really did a great job with the song and I now love the song as a result of what he did with it.

The Ladder
That's a song that I wrote while I was in the studio. I've had the music for a while. It was part of a soundtrack I did for this film Robbing Peter. The riff is part of what was in the movie. And I wanted to write this song for Kim, a love song. While we were staying in Venice when I was making the album, we were riding our bikes along the beach one weekend, and it was just packed. And there was this statuesque Black guy who looked like some Nubian prince playing basketball by himself. And suddenly these cop cars came around and he started preaching to them, and then to everyone about the horrors of McDonald's and how we were supporting the war. And he was spot on even though he was totally out there. Then a little later we see him again, and he's in this loincloth, with his body totally oiled down and these things in his eyes that made them look white, like he was blind. And he had this white bucket with a lid and a ladder and an archery bow and a staff with feathers all over it. So he puts the ladder out and he climbs up on it and does these poses with the bow and then the staff. Then he reaches into the bucket and pulls out these two copper colored hooded cobras. He's got them by the head and they're fanning out their hoods. And it really freaked us out. And that image is what led to "The Ladder."

Break This Time
As soon as I started playing it for Cale, I realized, this is "Waiting For The Man." It's kind of like a Stones or Velvets song, those great three-chord songs that I love very much. I wrote the lyrics with Kim about how I think there was a time when my lifestyle was kind of overwhelming for her, all the things that were going on in my life. I'd tell her: That's not why I asked you here. I love you and that's the bottom line. I'm talking about the amount of effort I've put into trying to keep our relationship strong.

Evita's Lullaby
I wrote that for my Mom. It's funny - my Mother changed her name not that long ago. Her original name was Cleotilda, and we knew her as Cleo all her life. And suddenly she became Evita and refuses to be referred to as anything else. I'm not sure if the Madonna movie had anything to do with it. I wrote it after she came out and visited me after my father passed away. She was very distraught and depressed and coming to terms with him not being around. They'd been married over 60 years. And you can only imagine how that separation was like having half of you taken away. With him being gone I realized what a space it left in all our lives. So I wanted to write this song for her that's talking to my Dad about them and how much she loved him and how I hope they're together again someday. I've written so many songs about my Dad and his life and I've never really addressed my Mom. It's a real special song for me, and probably the most important song on the record. 

Sacramento & Polk
That's a redux. But I'm glad we redid it because that version is ferocious. And I always wanted to do that song with someone like Cale. Lyrically, it's about living in transient hotels in San Francisco in the late '70s. The reference to "I never could jump from high enough/Third story jump ain't high enough/It's just a mess on Market Street" is about an actual event where this guy tried to kill himself by jumping out a third story window. And he f***ed up, so he just landed on the sidewalk and was lying there moaning. And people were stepping over him and saying what a dumb f*** he was. That's kind of the imagery that we lived with in those days.

Died A Little Today
It's about the lessons learned when you come close to death and then have a chance to reflect and get better, and the things you hope you become as a result of the lessons you learned, like maybe a better person somehow. And how we all die every day and we become different people and are constantly changing.

Take Your Place
Mark Andes brought in the chords and this melody. And we did a version of it that's like a full-on, Stonesy kind of rocker. But afterwards I started thinking that I've done so many Stones-type songs, I'd like to do something else. And so I asked John if he could deconstruct it. We kept the vocal from the rock version. And then we went and did the background vocals after we listened to Snoop Dogg's latest record because Cale is really into Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg.

The Boxing Mirror
That song has a lot of interesting connections for me. My father was a boxer. We used to go to the Olympic Auditorium in L.A. to watch boxing matches. And every weekend we watched boxing on TV, eating dinner while two guys beat each other up. I lived with my father for a year in my teen years apart from the rest of the family in National City in these bungalows that were filled with ex-boxers. So it's my Dad's history and mine. And "The Boxing Mirror" was this great poem that Kim had written, and I loved the reference to "the underground hall of fame." It's really about this person fighting themselves and all the things that happen as a result of that, which I could very much relate to. It's a complete performance that just happened. Those lyrics weren't written yet. For part of it I had Kim's poem, and then I had to ad lib stuff because I didn't have the words in front of me and suddenly we were just going for it. I always believe there are songs on records that take you to new places, and this would be one of them.

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Alejandro Escovedo - The Boxing Mirror
Label:Back Porch Music

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