With these hands
Living here, it's easy to get a bellyful of Austin, where the water tastes like wine. But there are advantages to living just a few hours from the Live Music Capital of the World, If Not the Galaxy; the semifrequent opportunity to see singer-songwriter Alejandro Escovedo is one of them.

Escovedo has been many things; founding punk with San Francisco's Nuns, cow-punk pioneer with Rank and File, and straight-ahead rocker with the great, unrealized True Believers. But the thing he does best is play music with intelligence and feeling, never sacrificing honesty for effect. He still is many things, and it's interesting to note that he needs three bands with which to spend his creativity: glorious trash-rockers Buick McKane, the brilliantly eclectic Alejandro Escovedo Orchestra, and his backing band.

The musicians with him on the road can include cellists and violinists, although he currently is leading a straight-ahead rock combo. His ability to move from one musical texture to another is mirrored in his songwriting, which can produce a Stones-y rocker one minute, and a world-weary meditation on loss and cost the next. Phenomenally talented, he still manages to bridge the distance between the stage and the crowd, conveying an average-guy vibe that fits well with his songs, which often take everyday--and frequently domestic--situations as the base for his thoughtful discussions.

It's not dissembling--this closeness--and it doesn't come at the expense of the songwriter-band leader's authority. It's just that Escovedo has a keen eye for the doubts and questions haunting anyone who has put some life behind them.

"There was a man who lived outside the gate/and guilty was his name," he sings on "Guilty," off his most recent, With These Hands. You can hear the regret--and recognition--of a person addressing his own shortcomings and culpability. It's an awareness that gives Escovedo's quieter, more thoughtful songs insight, and it also drives his rockers all the harder. Melancholy may come in the middle of the night, but it can make the day seem that much brighter.

--Matt Weitz

Alejandro Escovedo plays Club Dada August 1.

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Matt Weitz