in performance: the alejandro escovedo combo

alejandro escovedo. photo by charles cherney.

alejandro escovedo. photo by charles cherney.

Before he played a single note last night at the Singletary Center for the Arts, Alejandro Escovedo spoke at length about his love for Lexington. He recalled performances – and post-show celebrations – at the long defunct Lynagh’s Music Club, recording sessions at the more recently vacated St. Claire studio and the audience support that has made this champion Texas song stylist a huge local favorite for the better part of two decades.

The crowd, which largely filled the venue’s upstairs Recital Hall (the concert was initially booked at the larger Concert Hall downstairs), took it all in and poured obvious affection back out as naturally as a hometown turnout might.

What took place in and around this reciprocal lovefest was a program that focused largely on Escovedo songs from the last 15 years and his current “Combo” band that covered both the chamber-like reflection of his more introspective music (thanks to the return of cellist Brian Standefer, a veteran of Escovedo’s first Lynagh’s show in 1996) and the more pop-savvy rock ‘n’ roll of recent albums.

Curiously, the evening began with a song of displacement called Bottom of the World inspired by the urban sprawl than has engulfed Escovedo’s former hometown of Austin (he now lives near Dallas). The music possessed a wistfulness that brought Neil Young’s Powderfinger to mind, but with a cello accent from Standefer that was both elegiac and discreetly rhythmic.

Later, on Can’t Make Me Run, Escovedo plugged the band in by switching lead and rhythm guitar duties with Billy Masters, creating an ambient squall that nicely washed over a spacious, funky but very exact groove.

This was not a night for Escovedo nostalgists. Five Hearts Breaking was the only ‘90s tune performed. Oddly enough, there wasn’t any new music, either. Bottom of the World and Can’t Make Me Run constituted two of the four songs played from his most recent album, 2012’s Big Station. But there were several appealing transformations, including a lyrical and internalized Down in the Bowery that still highlighted the song’s inherent tension (“Everybody has to dance the blues sometimes”). There was also the still-arresting cover of Ian Hunter’s I Wish I Was Your Mother performed by Escovedo without vocal amplification from the lip of the stage, as he did so many times at Lynagh’s.

Escovedo will focus on the construction a new album in 2016. For now, though, this absorbing and selectively electric overview of his more recent musical past will serve as an inviting refresher course in the emotive and stylistic depth of what has already been a brilliant career.

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