Effusive praise and predictions of imminently wild success have greeted just about every Alejandro Escovedo release for the past 20 years, and it’s hard to pinpoint why the Austin-based singer/songwriter still languishes in the realm of cult adoration. Clearly he would never have been more than the George Harrison of Rank and File had he remained, but his own True Believers should have been one of the big bands of the ’80s and his solo career has been a brilliantly woven tapestry of gentle acoustic beauty, visceral electric passion and a lyrical power that is both poetically romantic and grittily real. Escovedo has survived personal tragedy, substance abuse, life-threatening health issues and the ignorance of mainstream America to become one of this country’s most highly praised and virtually unknown musical talents.
With a catalog that is almost ridiculously littered with excellence, Escovedo’s latest album, Street Songs of Love, isn’t any likelier to be his breakthrough work.
In many ways, Street Songs is a continuation of 2008’s Real Animal, as legendary producer Tony Visconti helms the boards and Escovedo collaborates with songwriter Chuck Prophet once again, with the trio (along with Escovedo’s band) The Sensitive Boys creating a similarly inspired set.
Street Songs’ theme is right up front on its Stonesy lead track, “Anchor,” as Escovedo observes, “I’m in love with love/And it broke me in two/I’m in love with love/So look out babe, it’s gonna break you too.” As usual, when Escovedo turns it up and bears down, he snaps and snarls with the searing power of avowed influences like The Stooges and Mott the Hoople (“Silver Cloud,” “This Bed is Getting Crowded,” “Tender Heart”) and when he slows it down and opens his soul, he touches nerves with a poet’s sensitivity and a surgeon’s skill (“Down in the Bowery,” “After the Meteor Showers,“ “Fall Apart With You”).The presence of Bruce Springsteen and Ian Hunter — who provide vocals on “Faith” and “Down in the Bowery,” respectively — may attract some of their fan bases who have yet to discover the joys of Escovedo, but the good news contained in Street Songs of Love is that his power to effect listeners on an elemental level remains stronger than ever, even if it’s the same listeners as last time out.