Real Animal – Alejanrdo Escovedo
The old saying goes that hindsight is 20/20, and on Real Animal Alejandro Escovedo looks back at his life with a clear vision that illuminates where he is today. He travels to 1978 and his time living in the same building as the doomed coupling of Sid Vicious and Nancy Spungen (‘Chelsea Hotel’), to his first band, The Nuns, and their na and confident punk attitude (‘Nuns Song’) and his period battling Hepatitis C (‘Golden Bear).
He may reference that era but, musically, Escovedo ignores the freewheeling punk antics of his earliest days as a musician. Hes matured too much over the past 30 years to play in the manner that recalls in Nuns Song We know were not in tune/We know well never be great. At that time, to just be onstage doing it was enough of a triumph. Still, the intro to the opening track Always A Friend certainly has a whiff of CBGBs and Max Kansas City smoke and spilled beer aroma. And that sentimental stench reeks through every glorious track. Through it all, echoes of Lou Reed, John Hiatt, Los Lobos, Bob Dylan and David Bowie seep into the material. Sensitive Boys drifts by in a state of recollection similar to Reeds Coney Island Baby, while Golden Bear sounds as if Chris Isaak covered Bowies Ashes To Ashes. Altogether, the nods consciously and subconsciously to other artists only add to the sense of a life made and saved through music. That takes on further depth when Escovedo returns to his near-death experience from Hepatitis C. In a true sense of how such an experience can bring about a roller coaster of emotions. The upbeat, positive People (Were Only Gonna Live So Long) is followed by the frightened Golden Bear and its chorus of Golden Bear is burning down/Oh, why me?
A major round of applause deservedly goes to producer Tony Visconti (David Bowie, T. Rex) who not only gave Real Animal an urgency that connects it to the vitality of Escovedos discovery and camaraderie from the late 70s to the present day. Just as important is Viscontis help in the string arrangements. Rather than the lush sounds one is accustomed to hearing from a string section, theres a ferocity spewing forth in each glide of the bow Always a Friend, Chelsea Hotel, and, especially, the aggressive playing found on Smoke and Chip N Tony.
Real Animal ends with Escovedo turning further inward with ghostly echoes of shows he attended, but like the rest of the album he finds an emotional connection that links another live-changing memory. Mixing a love of life with the romantic spirit of musics possibilities, he channels a world where the rest of us music addicts find our own identity. Its no surprise that he shouts at one point, All I ever wanted was a four piece band. You believe him and cheer him on because hes been able to satisfy the beating of his rock n roll heart.