Alejandro Escovedo – Big Station
The way the double-stop riffing of lead track “Man of the World” blasts out of the gates, tires screeching, rpm needle buried hard right, you’d expect Big Station to be a triumphant rock ‘n’ roll record. And why not? After all the trials and tribulations Alejandro Escovedo has faced in his life (from heartbreak to the Hepatitis C that nearly took him out in the early aughties), he’s still standing tall – still making music on his own terms.
But once the album’s next song, the titular “Big Station,” comes to a dead stop, its contagious harmonies echoing into the silence between tracks, the record slips comfortably – perhaps too comfortably – into laidback singer/songwriter fare. This isn’t an inherently bad turn since Escovedo can damn sure write a song (if you have any doubts, cue up underdog-musician’s lament “Last to Know”); it’s just that on this new record, the ballads are too blunted by all the hi-gloss production lacquer to cut as deep as they should. Escovedo sings passionately about the ramshackle, depraved and down-and-out (“duct-taped together for one last ride,” “used to be on top, now I just roll over”) but the music rarely matches up.
While Escovedo’s producer for the last three records, Tony Visconti, has made some legendary albums with the likes of David Bowie and T. Rex, the glam-style polish doesn’t suit Escovedo particularly well. He’s better served up raw. Just listen to the no-frills rock ‘n’ roll of his side project Buick MacKane, or the stripped-down acoustic story-songs of his live album More Miles than Money.
All that said, Big Station has its redeeming moments – the chilling resignation of Mexican-drug-war ballad “Sally Was a Cop,” the weary yet hopeful “Bottom of the World” and the spaghetti-Western loneliness of “Never Stood a Chance” come to mind. And there’s the Tom Petty-channeling “Headstrong Crazy Fools,” a wizened look back at the all the stupid reckless beautiful shit we do when we’re young and on our own for the first time. It’s just a bit of a letdown when you consider how much better this record could be if the sound matched the unvarnished aesthetic of the songs.