Alejandro Escovedo, "Street Songs of Love" (Fantasy) Rating: 3/4
A favorite son of Texas and adopted hero of Chicago, Alejandro Escovedo has never been one to rest on his laurels, not with his groundbreaking early combos (the Nuns, Rank & File, and True Believers), not with a wildly ambitious and ever-shifting solo career, and especially not since his reemergence after a life-threatening bout with Hepatitis C that waylaid him for much of the early 2000’s. Escovedo came back from those dark days with two striking discs that were similarly introspective lyrically but diverse musically: “The Boxing Mirror” (2006), a John Cale-produced homage to dark Velvets drones, and “Real Animal” (2008), a raucous, glam-rock-flavored accounting of his early days on the punk-rock scene.
“Real Animal” succeeded brilliantly because of two collaborations that continue on “Street Songs of Love,” one with co-songwriter Chuck Prophet, and the other with producer Tony Visconti, best known for his work with David Bowie and T-Rex. As the title indicates, this is a collection of a dozen tunes about love (plus one instrumental), most of them mid-tempo, rootsy rockers, and two of them featuring cameos by Escovedo heroes: Springsteen duets on “Faith” (a song that’s way too Bruce for its own good), and Ian Hunter of Mott the Hoople drops by on “Down in the Bowery.”
The disc is at its best when it’s moving fastest: The garage rocker “Silver Cloud” is a barnburner, and Escovedo calling forth a fiery solo from guitarist David Pulkingham with a shout of, “I’m a fool for your love—come on, fool me!” is as memorable a cue as Lou Reed’s “And then my mind split open!” on “I Heard Her Call My Name.” Yet while Escovedo and Prophet do provide plenty of unique moments of relationship clarity—you’ve gotta love a line like “We know that nothing ever lasts/So we cry when we hear Johnny Cash” in the wrenching “Fall Apart with You”—a whole album of classic-rock love songs is a whole album of classic-rock love songs, and Escovedo sounds more predictable and more limited throughout than the many twists and turns of his splendid career have led longtime fans to expect.