His 2008 album, Real Animal, was an audio autobiography that touched on virtually every style Escovedo has delved into through the years. The set, produced by T. Rex and David Bowie vet Tony Visconti, featured straight-out punk burners reminiscent of Escovedo’s ’70s band The Nuns (who just happened to open for the Sex Pistols’ final show), as well as the “cow-punk” and Americana he helped pioneer in ’80s bands Rank & File and True Believers.
Even as Escovedo was recording that purposefully style-hopping set, he had an idea that his next album would be far more direct, “a stripped-down album of just two guitars, bass and drums.” This summer, that album arrived, and Street Songs of Love is one of the best of his career, boasting assists from Bruce Springsteen (singing backup on “Faith”) and songwriting partner Chuck Prophet.
“I had this idea that the album would be kind of Exile on Main Street, or a Tom Petty thing, but out of Texas,” Escovedo says in an interview from Edmonton, where his raucous band most likely scared the hell out of the quiet Canadians enjoying the Edmonton Folk Music Festival.
And while he didn’t intend it, Street Songs of Love became another set that, lyrically, is heavy on the autobiographical, following albums like 2003’s By The Hand of the Father, which explored the Mexican-American experience of his family, and 2006’s The Boxing Mirror, which tackled his feelings of mortality after nearly dying from a bout of Hepatitis C. While Escovedo is cagey about the sources of his lyrical inspirations, he does allow that Street Songs is “an album about love—the pursuit of a feeling that is forever elusive, mysterious and addictive.”
“I was really trying not to,” Escovedo says about his autobiographical writing on the album. “My intention was to not do that, and really stray away from that if I could. Real Animal was definitely an autobiographical record, and we set out to make that record in that form. I’d kind of had enough of it and hoped to get away from it, but it didn’t turn out that way. And I’m glad, because it became what it became. It’s some of the best writing Chuck Prophet and I have done.”
Indeed, it’s a lyrically potent collection, thanks to songs like “This Bed Is Getting Crowded,” about the “ghosts” one encounters during a relationship, or the opening “Anchor”—an image “which is not only something that weighs you down, but also prevents you from floating away.”
The album is equally strong musically, thanks to Escovedo’s top-notch band The Sensitive Boys and the unique approach he took to developing the songs.
Escovedo set up a two-month residency at the Continental Club in South Austin, and every Tuesday he showed up with three new songs. He would work on the songs in front of a live audience, first in bare-bones acoustic form, then slowly incorporating the band over the course of the night, fleshing out the arrangements on the fly. By the end of the two months, Escovedo had about 15 songs he really liked, the band was in peak form and confident about the new tunes, and he was ready to record, again with Visconti in the producer’s seat. Having a live audience along for the ride while the songs evolved turned out to be a blessing Escovedo couldn’t have anticipated.
“The first song we did was ‘Anchor,’ and they were trying to sing along immediately, so we knew we were onto something,” Escovedo says. “The songs evolved in different ways as the band became more confident. The performances became better, stronger. The audiences became larger and had more energy. And the backup singers, once they came in and were getting all dressed up, the band started getting all dressed up, and the audience, too, they became a large part of the record that way. It became a real thing on Tuesday nights.”
Fortuitous, then, that Escovedo’s first stop in Salt Lake City since last summer happens to be a Tuesday, too.
The State Room
638 S. State
Tuesday, Aug. 24
$20 adv/$25 day of