AL­BUM RE­VIEWS

The London Free Press - - MUSIC -

Big Red Ma­chine Big Red Ma­chine (PEO­PLE/Jag­jaguwar)

Big Red Ma­chine is a long-in-the-mak­ing pro­ject led by Bon Iver’s Justin Ver­non and The Na­tional’s Aaron Dess­ner.

Its roots go back to an epony­mous song the pair cre­ated for Dark Is the Night, a momentous 2009 com­pi­la­tion in the Red Hot series ben­e­fit­ing the fight against HIV/AIDS.

Be­sides the usual phys­i­cal for­mats, the al­bum is be­ing re­leased on PEO­PLE, a new dig­i­tal plat­form co-founded by the two mu­si­cians with a few oth­ers and which was part of the record’s cre­ative process, with con­tri­bu­tions from a var­ied ros­ter in­clud­ing Lisa Han­ni­gan, The Staves, Brad Cook, JT Bates and sev­eral of Dess­ner’s band­mates.

Keep­ing that in mind, it’s dif­fi­cult to con­sider the mu­sic sep­a­rately from its source and the pre­dom­i­nant sounds on Big Red Ma­chine re­flect its col­lec­tive na­ture.

Some of the tunes have more than a dozen mu­si­cians and there are lay­ers upon lay­ers of vo­cals and elec­tronic and acous­tic sounds through­out.

Some­times they en­hance the lis­ten­ing plea­sure, like on Lyla, Grat­i­tude and Hym­nos­tic, while some­times they’re more of a dis­trac­tion (Air Stryp, Melt).

Since he’s the lead singer and lyri­cist — some of the words bor­der on stream of con­scious­ness, oth­ers are more straight­for­ward — Ver­non’s pres­ence is the most im­me­di­ate.

Some of the al­bum’s best mo­ments, how­ever, in­clud­ing the med­i­ta­tive For­est Green and the com­par­a­tively con­ven­tional I Won’t Run From It, have Dess­ner’s sound­prints all over them.

Ac­cord­ing to its cre­ators, PEO­PLE is meant to give mu­si­cians and artists an eas­ily ac­ces­si­ble en­vi­ron­ment to ex­hibit works in progress as well as fi­nal prod­ucts, re­act and add to each other’s ef­forts and spawn col­lab­o­ra­tions.

The 10 songs on Big Red Ma­chine are loaded with ex­per­i­men­ta­tion, some of it exquisite, some ex­ces­sive.

As the first tan­gi­ble re­sult of the pro­ject, it’s an aus­pi­cious start.

Ale­jan­dro Es­covedo The Cross­ing (Yep Roc)

Draw­ing up a fam­ily tree of Ale­jan­dro Es­covedo’s lengthy ca­reer re­sults in a small for­est with branches spread out across punk, rock and alt-coun­try.

Now 67, he’s been in bands like The Nuns, Rank and File and the True Be­liev­ers; his fam­ily in­cludes niece Sheila E., his brothers were in groups like L.A. punk pi­o­neers the Zeroes, and he’s re­leased over a dozen solo al­bums since his ex­cel­lent 1992 de­but, Grav­ity, in­clud­ing three thun­der­ing col­lec­tions pro­duced by David Bowie col­lab­o­ra­tor Tony Vis­conti.

Texas-born to Mex­i­can im­mi­grants, Es­covedo de­scribes The Cross­ing as say­ing “more about me than any of my records, with­out it be­ing a record about me.” Nom­i­nally, the songs are about a pair of im­mi­grants — Salvo from Italy, Diego from Mex­ico — whose Texan ex­pe­ri­ences with the Amer­i­can Dream don’t quite match their ex­pec­ta­tions.

But men­tions of the Zeroes, the Stooges, Johnny Thun­ders, MC5, the Plugz and other marvels of Amer­i­can cul­ture, as well as U.S. and Mex­i­can writ­ers and po­ets, put Es­covedo in the mid­dle of the story.

Recorded in Italy with lo­cal band Don An­to­nio, whose leader An­to­nio Gra­men­tieri co-wrote the al­bum, and with a hand­ful of guests such as fel­low Texan Joe Ely and MC5 gui­tarist Wayne Kramer, The Cross­ing has a story that doesn’t bode well, even if it claims to have no end­ing.

Son­ica USA rocks might­ily, Tex-Mex el­e­vates Out­law for You and the nar­ra­tion on Rio Navi­dad, where Diego en­coun­ters a re­tired Texas Ranger at a San An­to­nio wed­ding, gives it a pow­er­ful emo­tional kick.

The Cross­ing’s most ur­gent songs are re­flec­tive, pas­sion­ate and de­fi­ant, like Es­covedo him­self.

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