Monday, October 04, 2004
Tributes to Alejandro Escovedo
Listen to Pyramid of Tears by Solemn Fist. Listen to Broken Bottle by Jon Langford and Sally Timms. Alejandro Escovedo is a 53-year-old, 98-pound-soaking-wet piece of rock-n-roll history; truly, a living legend. His life story reads like a plaque in the modern rock hall of fame. Alé lived in the Chelsea Hotel at the same time as Sid n' Nancy. In 1978, his first band - The Nuns - was on the bill for the last ever Sex Pistols show. (Yes, I said last. That '96 reunion tour didn't happen. Hear me? Did. Not. Happen.) He's recorded with Willie Nelson and shared rehearsal space with Ornette Coleman. He used to hang with Lester Bangs and Sterling Morrison and the Stooges. Unfortunately, Alejandro's sick. Very sick. In April of last year he collapsed on stage in Arizona from complications related to Hepatitis C. To make matters worse he's uninsured and living in Texas (a.k.a. bankrupt, or close to it). To soften the blow, his friends, fans and family have set up a trust fund, staged numerous benefit concerts across North America and recorded a pair of tribute albums. The first, Por Vida, on Chicago's Bloodshot Records, is filled to the brim with some of the bigger names in roots rock (Lucinda Williams, Steve Earle, The Cowboy Junkies, Gillian Welch. Jon Langford and - cough - Los - cough, cough - Lonely Boys). No Ryan Adams, though, which is surprising given that the former Bloodshot prodigy's old (i.e. good) output included Escovedo covers (The True Believers' Rain Won’t Help You When it's Over on the limited release In Your Wildest Dreams EP) and collaborations (Three songs on 1997’s Strangers Almanac). I guess (c)Ryan's too busy ripping off the Smiths and picking fights with posters on his bulletin board to bother. Anyway, the second tribute record is an all-Canadian production featuring some interesting names from the Vancouver and Toronto scenes. Escovedo 101 features former Wilco sideman Bob Eagan, former Spirit of the West-ie Linda McRae and the last ever recording by the late Ray Condo. Now, tribute records are kinda like charity golf tournaments or company softball games. Most folks are happy to just show up for four hours and collect the free beer. Some people - a rare few, it seems - actually try to make a game of it. This isn't to say that there aren't good tribute records (I particularly like Return of the Grievous Angel, and I'm Your Fan - which introduced all sorts of 90`s kids to Leonard Cohen) but it's a tricky thing to pull off. Alejandro has recorded some incredible work over his solo career. So Solemn Fist, Langford and Timms succeed by taking advantage of some great raw materials. They are also succeed by adhering to Fatcitizen`s Incontrovertible Law of rock, Number 4: Carbon copy covers - particularly of songs that everyone knows - suck. Interesting covers - like these - take an old song and make it something unique and fun. Buy Escovedo 101. Buy Por Vida. Donate to Alejandro Fund. Copy, Right? is dedicated to cover tunes. That fact, and that fact that Liza offers smart, tightly written (oh, and funny) insights into the tunes, make it one of my favourite music blogs. In 1998, No Depression Magazine named Alejandro Escovedo Artist of the Decade (whatever that means). Check out the article that accompanied that pronouncement here.