building an animal

alejandro escovedo returns to lexington on tuesday.

alejandro escovedo plays the dame on tuesday.

In a way, it was like coming home.

No, Alejandro Escovedo isn’t from Lexington. He remains a Texas-born, Southern California-reared songsmith through and through. But over the past 12 years, he has estbablished one of his most devout fanbases right here in Central Kentucky.

The shows Escovedo brought to town, especially late ‘90s sets at the long defunct Lynagh’s Music Club, were, quite simply the stuff of legends – performances that mixed rock attitudes that shifted from the punkish to the celebratory with bands often augmented by chamber style orchestration of cello and violins. And the songs, whether contemplative or ferociously rocking, boasted a literary, human detail that was almost Springsteen-ian in scope.

So when Escovedo returned to Lexington at the close of 2007 with Chuck Prophet, another expert songwriter who developed an audience here through regular concert visits, it was only natural to feel a sense of kinship with the surroundings.

But the mission was different this time. Instead of another performance, Escovedo and Prophet settled into the studios of the Saint Claire Recording Company on Spurr Rd. to begin work on a new album. And in a mere five months time, before the resulting record even hit stores, Escovedo’s new music would win over one especially high profile fan.

More on that in a minute. For now, let’s not lose sight of the fact that Escovedo cut his newest album, Real Animal, right in our own back yard.

“Chuck and I kept talking about how interesting it was that we were coming back to Lexington to record this album,” Escovedo said. “Lexington is where, really, things broke for both of us. Those early gigs at Lynagh’s were the kinds of shows that really broadened my whole perspective. People came out to the shows, everyone was enjoying themselves and we were playing some great music. We always couldn’t wait to come back to Lexington.”

Curiously, recording in Lexington wasn’t Escovedo’s idea. That call was made by veteran producer Tony Visconti, who was recruited to oversee the Real Animal sessions. Among Visconti’s credits were seminal albums by David Bowie and T. Rex as well as recordings with The Moody Blues, Angelique Kidjo and many others.

Visconti recorded the Pittsburgh punk band Anti-Flag at Saint Claire earlier in 2007 and was keen enough on the facility to suggest it to Escovedo for the songs he had been writing with Prophet.

“I thought the things Tony could bring to the record were things that I had been hoping for. He wanted me to make a rock album and stuck to that. I knew I had a rock album in me, but Tony had a way of making you feel, without even verbalizing it, that there was something really special going when we were recording.”

While Real Animal offers an ample share of grand rock epics, from the anthemic Always a Friend to the Stooges-inspired brawler Real as an Animal, there are also tunes like Slow Down that uphold Escovedo’s reputation as an expert balladeer. Regardless of the musical thrust, the songs grew out of extended conversations with Prophet. In turn, many of their compositions aren’t so much autobiographical as they are travelogues of Escovedo’s life, from his California upbringing (the lovely Swallows of San Juan) to more jagged snapshots from days with two early bands, the San Francisco punk outfit The Nuns (Nuns Song) and the Austin, Tx. Americana-inclined Rank and File (Chip N’ Tony).

“We would talk about growing up in Huntington Beach, about the songs I used to hear off the peer, the girls, the waves. We dug these stories up out of hours and hours of conversations we would have.”

Escovedo and Visconti returned to Saint Claire to mix the album last February. But by the spring, an advance copy wound up in the hands of Bruce Springsteen. The story goes that Springsteen heard Always a Friend and extended an invitation for Escovedo to join him onstage with the E Street Band when The Boss’ tour rolled into Houston in mid-April.

“I was told Bruce said, ‘Call Alejandro and see if he’s in.’ So I got the call. And, believe me, I was in.”

Escovedo had never met Springsteen up to that point. He had never even seen one of his concerts.

“First of all, I have to say I was completely blown away by the show. The energy was just unbelievable. It wasn’t just the sheer stamina Bruce had, but the quality of the playing and the almost religious fervor he creates. His audience is so up and so happy.

“At the first encore, he gave me this wonderful introduction, talking about how much he liked Texas songwriters. Then I got up there in front of 18,000 people and just couldn’t believe where I was. I was walking on a cloud afterwards.”

The performance was recorded and issued by Springsteen as part of a four-song, download-only benefit EP last summer called Magic Tour Highlights. A video recording can be viewed on Escovedo’s website.

“2008 was this big wave ride for me,” Escovedo said. “I’m proud of what Chuck and I wrote and of what Tony, the band and I recorded. We stuck to what we wanted to do and accomplished what we wanted to do, which is not always the case with records – or anything in life, really.”

Alejandro Escovedo performs at 8 p.m. Tuesday at The Dame, 367 East Main. The Tall Boys will open. Tickets are $20. Call (859) 231-7263 or go to www.dameky.com.

 



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