.Alejandro Escovedo Reinterprets Himself

Dancing with the past in his new album

As a recording artist, if you hang around long enough, you get to look back at your body of work. And if you’re really lucky, you not only get to revisit your canon, but even get a shot at reinterpreting and reimagining these earlier fruits of your labor.

That’s what Alejandro Escovedo has done with his new album, Echo Dancing. It finds him using the past to shape the future.

The idea was spawned in part when the 73-year-old Americana icon took a listen to Por Vida: A Tribute to Alejandro Escovedo, a 32-cut compilation that found a wide array of artists covering the songs of the album’s namesake as a means of helping him cover his medical bills while he was recovering from hepatitis C. Among the friends and famous fans who participated were Lucinda Williams, Rosie Flores, Son Volt, the Cowboy Junkies, the Jayhawks and Ian Hunter.

One cover in particular caught Escovedo’s ear.

“I came across a song done by Calexico, called ‘Wave,’” Escovedo explains. “I just loved it. I started listening to that record a little more and I thought it would be cool to join the excavation of songs, see what’s down there, and see what we could salvage and put a new paint job on. Maybe just fix it up and see what happens. I had a lot of fun doing it. It was really interesting how it came about. It just happened by chance, but once it started to roll, it was really, really easy and a lot of fun to do.”

The next step found the Austin resident decamping to the Italian countryside, where he joined forces with musicians Don Antonio and Nicola Peruch.

Having worked with Antonio on 2018’s The Crossing—a concept album about two young refugees (one Italian, one Mexican) who bond over their mutual love of punk rock and struggle with discrimination as they try to immigrate to America—Escovedo gladly leaned into this musical partnership. He spent November 2022 in Europe working on Echo Dancing at the duo’s recording studio in a 15th-century stone mill overlooking olive orchards and vineyards.

“Don Antonio and Nicola Peruch were the perfect partners in this endeavor because they were just very open to whatever I was going to do, no matter what,” Escovedo says. “The idea was that we were going to create an album that was totally improvisational—just start playing, start singing and see what happens. Then we changed gears and got into this mode. … They were perfect for the job. It’s amazing. Antonio and I wrote The Crossing together and worked on The Crossing together with that band—his band. I was accustomed to working with them and they were accustomed to working with me, so it worked out.”

In hopping on his musical time machine, Escovedo not only went through his solo music canon but also included selections from other groups/projects he was involved with, specifically Buick MacKane (“John Conquest”) and the True Believers (“Outside Your Door”). But rather than do a by-the-numbers rendition, Escovedo and his cohorts reimagined the original material using sonics and electronics in a manner that was tip of the cap to influences like Suicide.

For the native Texan, it’s been a rewarding process.

“The exciting part of it for me is going back and it’s not even like the old songs anymore—it’s like we’re playing a whole new set,” he said. “Some of the songs have been a challenge. ‘Castañuelas’ has been a challenge. But we’re getting there and finding the groove in that song. Live, we’ve been doing it as a mash-up of the old one and the new one. It’s been fun. While a song like ‘Sensitive Boys,’ where I am at this point, singing it also seems to ring true and also seems to be kind of an homage to all the bands I was in and the people I met along the way who were in the same kind of bands. They all had that same enthusiasm for rock and roll, have grown older with it and still feel the same way. It was cool.”

Escovedo promises to bring more of that innovation to the stage with this current tour, with more than a few twists thrown in.

“A good portion of the set is songs from Echo Dancing and starts out with about four or five songs right off the bat,” he said. “We do some of our older material. We do ‘Deer Head on the Wall’ and ‘Sonica USA’ from The Crossing. We still go out into the audience and sing acoustically, where we do some of the older material. Then we end with a song off of Echo Dancing. It’s kind of a hybrid.”

Echo Dancing also represents a point in time where Escovedo is taking stock of his life and mortality. Part of it involves a recent move back to Austin after spending four years living in the Belmont Hotel in the Oak Cliff section of Dallas.

The day before we spoke, his oldest brother, Manuel Escovedo, had passed away. It left him in an understandably introspective mood, where Escovedo revealed that he is also working on a memoir that he hopes to use as source material for a one-man show within the year.

“Manuel was a good man in his 90s, and he was just a great older brother,” Escovedo said. “It’s funny with family. I come from a very large family—13 kids. As they all began to leave us, part of you leaves with them. Second in line is Pete [Sheila E’s dad], and he’s in his 80s. He’s still playing and he’s still a beautiful man and so inspirational. Then I’m next in line after Pete. It’s weird, you know. You’re cueing up for this role. I don’t know, it’s strange.”

Thankfully, he continues to be inspired by “the beauty of the sexuality and sensuality of rock and roll—the kind of outlaw rebel nature of rock and roll when it was true to its form and the willingness to kind of just be who you are.”

Alejandro Escovedo, Tue, 8pm, Moe’s Alley, 1535 Commercial Way, Santa Cruz. $30/adv, $35/door. 479-1854.


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