Throughout the course of his long and musically varied career, Alejandro Escovedo has explored many musical forms: punk, country, rock and more. Back in 1998, the influential music magazine No Depression named him its Artist of the Decade. And while his recent string of albums found him working closely with celebrated David Bowie producer Tony Visconti, for 2016's Burn Something Beautiful, Escovedo decided, as he's done countless times throughout his career, to change direction. This time out, he's hooked up with some new collaborators: Scott McCaughey (Young Fresh Fellows, Minus 5) and former R.E.M. guitarist Peter Buck.
Both Buck and McCaughey — as well as band members Kurt Bloch (Fastbacks) and John Moen (The Decemberists) — live in the Pacific Northwest, and it's that region's enduring reputation for hard-edged rock that informs Burn Something Beautiful. "I don't think I could have made this record in any other location than in Portland, Oregon, with those guys," Escovedo says. "They brought that Northwestern fuzziness and distortion, in-your-face guitars, and an adventurous spirit that I love very much."
The studio band is touring, too, so concertgoers can expect that same razor-wire rocking vibe live onstage. But there's more to the new record than just hard rock. Escovedo believes that Burn Something Beautiful "defines everything I've ever loved about rock and roll. I can hear Mott the Hoople in it; I can hear Bowie. I can hear Brian Eno. I can hear all the things that I've always loved." He says Buck and McCaughey — with whom he co-produced and co-wrote all of the songs — "are very good at helping me exploit those areas without over-producing; they don't get in the way of the song."
Health scares, a major hurricane and relocation from his longtime home of Austin, Texas, have all left their marks on Escovedo, who's known for emotionally straightforward songs addressing both personal and universal issues. There's more than a hint of resignation and regret in a tune like "Farewell to the Good Times," but the new album is generally upbeat.
And while Burn Something Beautiful isn't overtly political, the issues of the day are never far from Escovedo's thoughts. He's written songs that deal with the United States' border with Mexico, including two about his father crossing that border many years ago.
Escovedo also notes the renewed timeliness of a pre-Obama-era stage play in which he was involved called By the Hand of the Father. "It's the story of five different men who were born at the turn of the century in Mexico," he says. "And it chronicles their journey across the border, all the jobs that they had to do in order to survive, and the families that they created and established in different parts of the Southwest." The play is notable as the first theatrical work broadcast on the customarily concert-focused Austin City Limits.
"I'd like to bring that play back now," Escovedo says, "in order to address the immigration problem that's happening as a result of having a fascist as the president."