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The Sybil of rock

More Miles than Money
Alejandro Escovedo
Bloodshot Records

Like most of us, Alejandro Escovedo--founding punk, germinal roots-rocker, and widely acclaimed singer-songwriter--is a conflicted man, containing in his person a number of opposite identities: pavement hound, earth child, father, rocker, monk, martyr, and maintenance man. He's seen the whole of the "rock world" and knows its disappointments and despair as well as its triumphant buzz; his genius lies in the way he takes the marks those highs and lows have left on him and fashions them into songs that vibrate with a resonance that comes only from experience.

The three albums he has released since going solo in 1991 contain great songs, but there has always been something to their presentation--a certain orderliness, perhaps, that doesn't quite jibe with the disorder inherent in the human spirit. Sterility is too harsh a word, distance not quite right. Whatever you call it, however, in person Escovedo avoids it, giving his exquisitely crafted songs the kind of immediacy--the ability to act as an emotional solvent--that can't be forced onto tape. Fortunately, Escovedo's live document More Miles Than Money captures it perfectly.

Say what you will about ELO, but it was really Escovedo who pioneered the union of strings and rock instruments, first with his (up to) 18-member orchestra and then in a more stripped-down form with his road band. He understands the appeal of instruments like the cello and violin, and knows how to use the deep pull of their graceful glide and the surprise of their sharp pointillism to perfectly underline a song's emotional arc: the regret behind "Last to Know," carried by a cello part that sidles through the song like a melancholy whale, or "Pissed Off 2 A.M.," where a one-time wild child finds himself both comforted and frustrated by domestic tranquility.

"Broken Bottle" is a concise picture of damage and regret, but there is also balm in the very act of carrying on, and some measure of redemption. "Five Hearts Breaking" is an elegiac song that builds slowly and beautifully until it breaks like newly dawning day in the chorus, the sudden crash between verses carrying a promise: "Everything will be all right." A wildly careening tangle of cello, violin, and guitar lead into the live Buick MacKane (Escovedo's rowdy garage band) favorite, Iggy Pop's "I Wanna Be Your Dog," and it's obvious that Escovedo's facility with expressions of the heart in no way interferes with his kicking of the ass. With each of his previous albums, Escovedo set out an array of well-crafted and intelligent songs. More Miles Than Money gathers them up and breathes life into them.

--Matt Weitz

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Matt Weitz

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