The tenth solo album by Alejandro Escovedo, Street Songs of Love, will be released on Tuesday, June 29. The same night he'll stride on stage at the first of three shows this week at New York City's City Winery and no doubt blow the roof off the place at the start of his summer tour, taking his music directly to the people once again. "I love touring, I love playing in front of people," Escovedo told me recently. "It's always been about playing in front of people for me."
The new album is at once robust and tender, all 13 of its tracks taking on love in its many forms, and dedicated with love to his first record producer, guitarist Stephen Bruton, who died last year. After 2008's autobiographical Real Animal, Escovedo had hoped this time to just record "cool songs that weren't really about anything." But during a month's break in Mexico late last summer, "the album kind of took on a life of its own and became a collection of love songs. Love songs which cover a lot of different aspects of love - kind of the mysterious quality of love, the tragic quality, the enlightened quality, the spiritual quality, even the parental quality....It's always been a pretty heavy part of my life, I guess it is for all of us."
The album is his second to be produced by Tony Visconti (Real Animal was the first), whom Escovedo met through industry veteran and current president of Blue Note Records Ian Ralfini. Visconti, who has worked with David Bowie, Thin Lizzy, the Moody Blues, Morrissey, Paul McCartney, and the Stranglers (to name only a few) immediately got along with Escovedo, who had always placed him very high on a list of people he wanted to work with.
Escovedo and his band, The Sensitive Boys, took a different approach to the recording process this time. They took up a two month residency at Austin's Continental Club last fall to present three new songs a week to the audience. "(Guitarist) David Pulkingham and I would play them in their barest form, sometimes just a verse and chorus, present it as a song and then bring the band out to show the audience how we could come up with an arrangement of the song." After the eight shows ended, they went on the road for three weeks and played the new songs every night.
As might be expected, many things changed during this process of working out the new material live. "Tempo changes, arrangement changes, and a constant lyrical evolution - some of them were just sketches, really - and then they would become what they became either because of what I was going through at the time, or because of people I would meet along the way, so the lyrics and the story wasn't complete until I got into the studio."
Escovedo acknowledged that the record "feels lighter, feels more fun to play" and he is looking forward to taking it on the road all summer. As for the band, named for a song on Real Animal - guitarist David Pulkingham (who also plays keyboards on the new album) has been with him for 10 years, Hector Munoz on drums for 26 years, and bassist Bobby Daniel is the newest member "but it feels like he's been there forever," says Escovedo.
Two special guests also turn up on Street Songs of Love - Bruce Springsteen contributed vocals to "Faith" and Ian Hunter sings on "Down in the Bowery." Springsteen and Escovedo have shared the same manager since 2008 and their musical styles are very similar - deeply felt, no holds barred, performance based rock and roll. The Ian Hunter collaboration made sense for many reasons: "I've known Ian for quite awhile now. I've gotten to work with him somewhat, opening up shows, playing on the same bill. He played on the tribute album for me which helped me get through my health situation that I was in when I was sick," Escovedo explains. (Escovedo had an extremely serious bout with Hepatitis-C several years ago and a number of musicians united to help defray his mounting medical costs since he, like many musicians and artists, had no medical insurance.)
"He's become a really cool mentor and a friend to me...I've always loved his music. It's interesting that he would sing on this song which is a song that I wrote for my son, who is 18 years old and - you know - angry young man, loves punk rock and graffiti art and is a singer in a band and kind of like an outcast in a way. And the song basically says that I love him and that I will support basically anything he becomes, because I love him just the way he is, so it encourages him to pursue his dream. No one ever told me those kind of things when I was a kid, except for the songs I listened to on the radio and on records. Ian Hunter's songs were a large part of that for me."