Alejandro Escovedo with Don Antonio. The Crossing. Yep Roc Records

crossingcover-300x300Sometimes a record just accords with the times and so it is with this sprawling and epic collaboration between Alejandro Escovedo, a Mexican-American who was named by No Depression as the Artist of the Decade at the end of the nineties, and Antonio Gramentieri, AKA Don Antonio, the Italian leader of the awesome Sacri Cuori. Both outsiders of sorts who manage each in their own way to capture the spirit of American music while retaining elements of their native culture, the pair teamed up last year when Gramentieri supplied the live band for Escovedo’s European tour and having hit it off they repaired to Italy to record The Crossing.

The album purports to be the story of two immigrants, Diego and Salvo, one Mexican, one Italian (natch) who are both seeking the American dream. They’re not the migrants of Steinbeck or Guthrie, seeking employment picking fruit. Instead, they’re in awe of the pop culture of America, the Beats, the punks, the movies, and as the album progresses they name check many of their heroes while at times aping the sonic attack of bands such as The Stooges and The MC5 (to the extent of having James Williamson and Wayne Kramer play on the songs which name check their bands). The album roams from fiery guitar led outbursts to more atmospheric (and, yes, cinematic) numbers with Gramentieri’s experience in creating pulsating and evocative music sitting side by side with Escovedo’s melodic and muscular rock punchiness.

And the album doesn’t hold back its punches. There’s the spoken word Rio Navidad, written by Willie Vlautin and read by Freddie Trujillo which has a racist Texas Ranger put in his place while on Fury and Fire Escovedo spits out the words, “They call us rapists so we build a bigger wall. We’re gonna tear it down.” On Footsteps in the Shadows  they evoke the nightmare of Diego’s crossing the American Mexico border with the music claustrophobic and haunting while Salvo’s introduction to the American way of life is his encounters with an alienated bunch of rednecks – “bigots with guitars” – on Texas Is My Mother. While our heroes strut their stuff on Outlaw For You which name checks several heroes (Thee Midnighters, The Plugz, James Dean, Alan Ginsberg, Cesar Chavez) over a pumping organ riff,  ultimately their odyssey turns sour with the closing title song a eulogy of sorts. Here they accept that the dream has soured as ICE (U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement) tighten the screws with Diego lamenting the death of his buddy Salvo.

With 17 songs and a playing time of around an hour the album is a hefty listen but for such an opportune adventure which addresses real time issues it’s well worth the effort. Musically it’s an album to savour as it twists and turns with Gramentieri’s brief interludes allowing him to speak to his own love of Italian music leggera  while Escovedo is allowed to wallow around in the glittered rock kingdom of T Rex on MC Overload. Joe Ely’s Silver City aches with a longing for the promised land (with Ely assisting on vocals) and Cherry Blossom Rain is up there with Escovedo’s excellent tear stained ballads on Thirteen Years. There’s even a rare appearance from former Only Ones Peter Perrett and John Perry on Waiting For Me, a nice nod to UK new wave.

Overall, The Crossing is an album made for our times with Escovedo and Gramentieri  painting a picture of hopes and dreams but ultimately aware of the challenges facing those who are railing against the prevailing wave of populist hate and dogma.

The Alejandro Escovedo Band With Don Antonio commence a UK tour this week playing in Glasgow at Oran Mor this Friday, 26th October, all tour dates are here.


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Alejandro Escovedo with Don Antonio @ The Fallen Angels Club. Stereo, Glasgow, Friday 7th April

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Tonight was a welcome (and much overdue) return to Glasgow from Texan Alejandro Escovedo who is touring on the back of his acclaimed (and much overdue) album Burn Something Beautiful, his first in five years. A fascinating character and one who might conceivably be worthy of the accolade “legend” Escovedo straddles the worlds of punk, Americana, Latin and Mexicana music. His first band, the Nuns, were the support band in San Francisco for the final Sex Pistols gig and with Rank and File and True Believers he was a prime mover in the rootsy alt country scene of the eighties. Solo albums commencing with Gravity (in 1992) were critically acclaimed with No Depression magazine declaring Escovedo “Artist of the Decade” at the end of the nineties. A struggle with hepatitis in the new century threw a spanner into the works but with the assistance of some earnest fundraising from his musical community and beyond he returned to recording and live appearances. He has collaborated with numerous artists familiar to these pages including Chuck Prophet, Peter Buck, Carrie Rodriguez and for this tour Sacri Cuori’s Antonio Gramentieri.

So it can be reasonably argued that the packed crowd tonight were expectant, memories of previous shows in King Tuts and the Arches bandied about, expectations high and for the most part they were not disappointed. Escovedo, now in his mid sixties but as dapper as ever threw us a show that was high on energy; primal slabs of rock’n’roll with chest clenching bass notes rumbling away this was the Escovedo who briefly appeared on the bar band grooves of his 1997 side project Buick Mackane where he explored his inner Iggy Pop. The opener Can’t make Me Run was a slow burning inner city groove with guitar squalls and a squalid sax solo with the closing refrain of “Don’t give up on love”  overwhelmed by a cacophonous sax introduction into the raw rock riff of Shave The Cat which welled into a ferocious wall of noise, visceral and pummelling. Taking no prisoners they then slammed into Beauty of Your Smile quickly followed by an old favourite, Castanets, a mutant child of Chuck Berry with some glorious guitar riffing from Gramentieri.

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Time for a breather and as Escovedo strapped on his acoustic he said hello and offered some observations on Austin over the years which led (naturally) into a song he co wrote with Chuck Prophet, Bottom Of the World, with the versatile band turning down from 11 on the amps to deliver some sweet sounds. Sensitive Boys, which followed, was a slice of autobiography and a touching tribute to fellow musicians, some now fallen by the wayside. Sally Was A Cop opened with some inventive percussion as it sparkled into sight, the dramatic lyrics woefully resonant of our times before the slam-dunk guitar onslaught of Horizontal followed.

Curfew time approached but this was cast to the wind as Escovedo paid tribute to his backing band (which he had only met the day before the tour), his encounters with Bruce Springsteen (and the scary Little Steven) and of his friendship with tonight’s promoter, Kevin Morris, whose wedding Escovedo attended in Austin a few years back. The encores commenced with the panther like prowl of Everbody Loves Me before he discarded his guitar for a dub like version of Leonard Cohens’ A Thousand Kissed Deep followed by Dylan’s Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues. With the band departed he then played a request, I Wish I Was Your Mother, reminding us that he’s as capable of pulling the heartstrings  as pummelling us into submission. A satisfying end to a very satisfying night.

As good as Escovedo was several in the audience were equally excited to see Don Antonio, AKA Antonio Gramentieri of Sacri Cuori unveil his new album which was released today. A wizard on guitar Gramentieri is also a master of texture and style, a rock’n’roll Morricone who grafts American music and cinematic Italian pop and rock creating a fairly unique sonic experience. As American culture conquered the West in the latter half of the last century, various nations devised their own versions with Italy being perhaps the most noteworthy especially in the sixties and early seventies when Italian cool was as hip as Hollywood cool and resonated worldwide for a while before the world moved on. Gramentieri plugs into this vibe with his music populated with dashes of Morricone and Rota along with a slew of Italian pop composers including artists such as Riz Ortolani, Armando Trovajoli and Piero Umiliani, composer of the song forever associated with the Muppets, Mah Na Mah Na.

As Don Antonio,  Gramentieri was accompanied by Denis Valentini on bass (and sublime whistling), Franz Valtieri on saxophone and keyboards and Matteo Monti on drums and percussion. The quartet were later to prove more than ample as a shit kicking roots rock band as they laid down the law with Escovedo but for their own set they roamed across a fine palette of musical colours and textures, the percussion and keyboards especially inventive and intriguing. From John Barry like spy riffs to Morricone soundscapes and mondo Hollywood twist extravaganzas they were just jaw droppingly good. In between songs and tunes Don Antonio took us on a tour of what he called Italiana (“not Americana” he insisted). Explaining that as he grew up he and his peers all wanted to be Americans but finally decided that their tongues were more suited to delivering their own Adriatic version of the fabled land. The show was a through a kaleidoscopic sonic tour of his Italy and he was witty as he acknowledged that songs by the likes of The Scorpions and Simple Minds were not going to cut in the Romagna rock’n’roll circuit.

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They opened with the tingling Lontana, an immediate leap into Cinecitta sounds with sinister vocals, whistling and prowling sax as Don Antonio summoned up some dreamscape guitar. Coffee can percussion and amplified slaps on the sax led into a throbbing, almost psychedelic instrumental with shards of guitar splintering throughout which eventually morphed into a Dick Dale like groove with Valtieri allowed full rein on a shrieking sax solo. Sunset, Adriatico was a glorious swoon of a tune which recalled Brian Eno’s vision of astronauts listening to alien country music in space. We were brought back to earth with a bump de bump on the thrilling Baballo, a parped sax fuelled dance frenzy, a mutant variation of the twist which owed as much to Alan Vega as it did to Tin Pan Alley.

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An all too short set but a thrilling glimpse into the many-mirrored worlds of Don Antonio and his excellent band and judging by the audience’s reaction one opening set you really don’t want to miss.

 

 

 

 

Jeremy Nail. My Mountain

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The thing about mountains is that, essentially, they’re an obstacle. Something to get around or over, to put behind you. This might entail some endeavour, some work, some guts before it’s finally behind you allowing you to get on with your journey. So it was with Texan Jeremy Nail, a jobbing Austin musician with one album under his belt and an occasional gig playing guitar with Alejandro Escovedo. His mountain was a cancer, a sarcoma that led to a leg amputation in 2013, enough to derail anyone. However, My Mountain, an album that alludes to his struggle on several songs, is evidence that that Nail, in the words of the Dude, abides.

Of course, numerous musicians have overcome tragedy and moved on; Nail the latest in a long line including Robert Wyatt, Chet Baker and Rick Allen. He’s assisted here by another musician whose livelihood and indeed life was threatened by illness a few years back, his old chum Alejandro Escovedo who produced the album and co-wrote one of the songs. And while Nail doesn’t sound like Escovedo, the album is not dissimilar to some of the latter’s solo albums, some warm Texan guitar licks mixed with bitter sweet string laden laments the order of the day. Escovedo’s production is masterful, creating an ambience that recalls the work of Daniel Lanois.

The album opens with the gutsy title song, ponderous bass and drums and jagged acoustic guitar leading into sweet female harmonies and sinewy slide guitar, a wonderful slice of swampy rock. Here Nail alludes to his illness singing, “Gonna climb my mountain, it’s about time, just sit back and watch me walk this crooked line”.  The following song, Down To The Ocean, the co-write, has Escovedo’s fingerprints all over it recalling melodies from his album Thirteen Years especially on the opening however Nail takes the lead here, his voice earnest and warm as he confronts his demons waving goodbye to his failures “to come back new again”. It’s a sublime song, evocative of the womb if such a thing is possible, the bass a heartbeat, burbling guitars and coiled slide cosseting it. Similarly Survive mentions a new beginning and again it’s bathed in a warm ambience, this time recalling Daniel Lanois’ work with Emmylou Harris and Neil Young, an acoustic scaffold supporting fragile voice and atmospheric guitar with gliding female harmonies. Nail revisits this sonic territory on the wonderful Only Love while the Lanois effect is most apparent on the epic New Frontier.

There are echoes also of fellow Texan Buddy Holly on the upbeat Dreams and on Heroes (not the Bowie song), here especially in the guitar lines but it’s back to that ambient guitar swaddle on the plaintive Calling All Cars, a shuffling rhythm section bowing to fine arcs of molten guitar lines. Nail closes the album with the relatively simple Tell Me What Else You Got, a challenge to fate that’s embroidered with some sweet violin playing from Eleanor Whitmore and a final guitar flourish from Chris Masterson. Mention of these two should be accompanied by an acknowledgement of the stalwart efforts from Bobby Daniel on upright bass, Chris Searles on drums and Dana Falconberry and Jazz Mills on harmonies.

Aside from his own story and his mountain to climb, My Mountain is a sublime listen. A late night wallow in warm guitars and intoxicating rhythms bathed in pathos.

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