Burn Something Beautiful
4 out of 5 stars
Despite success teaming with legendary producer Tony Visconti and co-writer Chuck Prophet for his previous three studio releases, Americana icon (the Nuns, Rank & File, True Believers, solo) Alejandro Escovedo clearly felt it was time for a change. Out go Visconti and Prophet, in come Scott McCaughey (Minus 5) and Peter Buck (R.E.M.) to handle both producing and co-writing.
Those two likely helped Escovedo connect with this album’s other backing musicians. They include guitarist Kurt Bloch (The Fastbacks), drummer John Moen (the Decemberists), baritone saxist Steve Berlin (Los Lobos) and singers Kelly Hogan and Corin Tucker: an Americana supergroup of sorts. This results in a set that doesn’t forgo Escovedo’s glam influences (“Shave the Cat” borrows T. Rex’s “Bang a Gong” lick), but incorporates them subtly into reflective, introspective songs often musing on ageing and its effect on the rock and roll lifestyle. Titles such as “Sunday Morning Feeling,” “Redemption Blues,” “I Don’t Want to Play Guitar Anymore” and the (almost) closing “Farewell to the Good Times,” the latter with lyrics “there’s nothing left to believe in,” show where Escovedo’s mind is.
There are plenty of ballads to reflect on those notions, some with ghostly, moving backing vocals as on “Beauty and the Buzz” that add a cool, somewhat ghostly approach. But Escovedo rocks hard in the tough garage attack of “Luna De Miel,” the thumping, talk/sung Velvet Underground influenced aggression in “Beauty of Your Smile” and especially the call and response wah-wah guitar enhanced boogie of the booming opening “Horizontal.”
Even the acoustic based “Suit of Lights” (“look at me/a sailor with no compass lost at sea”) and the chiming, Byrds’ inflected, soulful “Sunday Morning Feeling” (“I’ve seen better days/I’ve got nothing left to say/but that’s alright”) display a dark, edgy intensity that permeates the entire program. Nowhere is that more evident than on the ominous, near nightmare-ish folk-noir with restrained guitar feedback “Redemption Blues,” (“someday I’ll find a little peace”) one of the most harrowing songs in his catalog and surely a highlight of this set. Escovedo always delivers, occasionally even spits out, his lyrics with passion, but he seems particularly inspired throughout the disc’s 12 selections (and a startling, mesmerizing bonus cut with erratic drums and spectral backing singing “Thought I’d Let You Know” not listed on the cover).
There are no weak tracks, proving that this collaboration with Buck & McCaughey provided the energy and creativity to help Escovedo’s 12th studio release be one of his finest, which is no small feat in his already exceptionally productive, creative and influential career.