After a decade and a half of recording with a series of bands (including The Nuns, who opened for The Sex Pistols USA tour) and gradually mutating from punk to Americana, Alejandro Escovedo finally emerged fully-grown in 1992 with his first solo album. By all accounts, it had been a hard slog to get there. His New York scene with The Nuns imploded and he relocated to Texas where he formed Rank And File, one of the progenitors of the so-called cowpunk scene (“we wanted to marry the sounds of George Jones with The Clash”), in tandem with True Believers, a band bedevilled by record label problems. Personal tragedy preceded his solo debut as, in the midst of the pair splitting up, his wife killed herself. Her death informs many of the songs on ‘Gravity’ and its equally excellent follow-up, ‘Thirteen Years.’
Escovedo was 40 years old when he recorded ‘Gravity’ and by then he had decided on a brave mix of what can be called chamber orchestra rock along with glam and punk-infused rockers amidst a heavy dose of Austin influenced country rock. Dedicated to his late wife, the album has its fair share of songs about love and death and mourning but there’s a sense also of rebirth, an artist striding out into a new frontier with Escovedo finally in command of his words and music and determined to make his mark.
As such, there’s the dramatic musical Chiaroscuro of the opening song, ‘Paradise’, a song about a public hanging which is then followed by the dainty footstep of ‘Broken Bottle’ where a plaintive pedal steel sweetens a string quartet as Escovedo bids farewell to a lover. His unique voice, along with his ability to wed a sense of yearning to a fantastic melody, is spread throughout the disc but there are also moments when his love of glam and punk rears its head as on the full-on rocker, ‘One More Time’, and the Stones’ like ‘Oxford’. However, at the heart of the album there is a batch of songs which just elevate the album into the top echelon. ‘Five Hearts Breaking’ is Springsteen with soul. ‘Last To Know’ strips back the supposed glamour of rock’n’roll on a song which eventually gave him an album title – ‘More Miles Than Money’. ‘She Doesn’t Live Here Anymore’ is a confessional song, Escovedo alone and forlorn and it’s one of the most aching songs you will ever hear. He revs up for the astounding and spellbinding voodoo of ‘Pyramid Of Tears’ before shutting down the album with a song which returns to the format of the opening number on ‘Gravity/Falling Down Again’. Here, there are strings, propulsive rock’n’roll and, most affecting of all, a chorus of kids’ voices, invited to join in and laugh at the absurdity of all.
As a solo debut, ‘Gravity’ arrived fully formed and it and its follow-up were instrumental in No Depression magazine awarding Escovedo the status of Artist Of The Decade for the 1990s. There’s a wealth of wonder to be heard in his catalogue but this remains the lodestone.
Anyhow, Alejandro tells it better here…
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