Reviewed by Harry Kaplan
65 year old Alejandro Escovedo has released his pièce de résistance with Burn Something Beautiful. It is rare that someone releases an absolute stunner on their 15th album, but that IS what happened. A true credit to Escovedo’s ability to keep learning and evolving as an artist. The son of Mexican immigrants, Escovedo is from a very well established musical family, including brothers Coke and Pete Escovedo, and niece Sheila E. Alejandro’s brother, Javier, was in the legendary punk band The Zeros. Alejandro cut his teeth in punk rock as well, performing with the San Francisco punk outfit The Nuns. Escovedo moved to Austin, Texas in the 80s where he developed a roots rock style that has served him well over the past 3 decades. He was named No Depression’s Artist of the Decade in 1998. Despite the family ties and accolades, Escovedo still remains virtually unknown outside of the Americana/roots rock/Austin realm. Hopefully, Burn Something Beautiful will change that.
The co-conspirators on this album are Scott McCaughey (Young Fresh Fellows) and Peter Buck (REM). Escovedo states the following about the creation of this album: “This is a true collaboration between Scott McCaughey, Peter Buck and myself, without whom this record would have never been made. We wrote the songs together, arranged them together and performed them together. They deserve much applause for their effort and dedication to this record.” Definitely some heavy hitters were involved in this project along with Alejandro himself. Whatever, the catalysts and stimuli were, it created a winning formula. Burn Something Beautiful will have staying power and should be remembered 20 years from now.
Melding rock and roll, country, and punk to create an album with muscle, attitude, and sonic pleasure. It has some great pop sensibility with great hooks and harmonies, but it also has balls. Not an easy feat to have both, but Escovedo and company were able to capture it all on Burn Something Beautiful. Escovedo’s voice is truly special and it the perfect voice for his place and time. He sings and speaks in a way that made Dylan an icon. Johnny Volume (Track7) is an immediate standout. Reminds me of Green On Red. It is a hauntingly beautiful number with chilling keyboard fills and the right amount of noise and feedback. The song is about being a junkie in New York. It paints a very vivid picture of the allure and pain of addiction. Escovedo captures that raw emotion in the nearly 5 minute song that it would take a one hour documentary on PBS to do:
“I’m feeling so much better It’s time to make amends You see me on the corner I’m waiting on a friend If being straight is boredom And heroin’s a curse Strung out or too high to play Don’t know which is worse”
Heartbeat Smile (Track 2) is another perfect song. With the textbook mix of guitar, jangle, and backing vocals. It is like vintage Cheap Trick or Badfinger power pop. It is puts me in my happy place. The song is about friend(s) that have either moved on or passed away as Escovedo laments:
“We laughed and we roared We staggered and fell We greeted the sun with another tall tale San Francisco, New York, the alleys of Rome I wished I’d been there to carry you home”
I could go on, but all the songs are great so pick some faves of your own. As I have written before, it is like choosing between shrimp and lobster, either way you come out a winner. So if you want to be a winner, and I know you do, procure Burn Something Beautiful.