MU­SIC VETERAN ROCKER ON GOOD TEAM

> Writ­ing, pro­duc­tion part­ner­ships prov­ing fruit­ful for Es­covedo

The Commercial Appeal - Go Memphis - - Go Out - By Bob Mehr mehr@com­mer­cialap­peal.com

Ale­jan­dro Es­covedo is no stranger to the fine art of col­lab­o­ra­tion.

The 61-year- old Texas mu­sic leg­end is about to re­lease his third con­sec­u­tive al­bum (fol­low­ing 2008’s and 2010’s

with song­writ­ing part­ner Chuck Prophet and pro­ducer Tony Vis­conti, of T. Rex and David Bowie fame.

“When you find a team of peo­ple who can put to­gether songs and mu­sic and pro­duc­tion, it’s a rare kind of thing,” says Es­covedo, who plays Min­gle­wood Hall’s 1884 Lounge on Tues­day, along with New York singer-song­writer Jesse Malin.

“Hav­ing some­one like Chuck, where we re­ally spark to­gether, that’s not an easy thing to find as a writer. And as a pro­ducer to have Tony, who is still very in­spired and in­spir­ing for us, it’s been a great com­bi­na­tion of peo­ple.”

Es­covedo’s cur­rent al­bum tril­ogy kicked off with which served as a sonic au­to­bi­og­ra­phy of sorts, be­gin­ning with his child­hood in San An­to­nio, fol­lowed by his mu­si­cal com­ing of age as a teen in Cal­i­for­nia and then his ad­ven­tures with a se­ries of col­or­ful bands in the ’70s and ’80s.

Es­covedo’s life has in­cluded runs with sham­bolic punk out­fit The Nuns, who opened the Sex Pis­tols’ famed Win­ter­land show in 1978, and a stint at New York City’s in­fa­mous Chelsea Ho­tel. (Es­covedo was liv­ing there when punk icon Sid Vi­cious killed his girl­friend, Nancy Spun­gen.)

He even­tu­ally re­turned to Texas, where he joined cow-punk combo Rank and File and formed roots out­fit The True Be­liev­ers, be­fore de­vel­op­ing a crit­i­cally ac­claimed 20-year- old solo ca­reer.

“With we treated it like we were cre­at­ing a sto­ry­board for a film al­most,” Es­covedo says. “Ba­si­cally, Chuck and I try and cre­ate a frame­work to work within. The same thing hap­pened with (

We just look for a con­cept or con­text and fill in the blanks.”

par­tic­u­lar tex­ture and feel owe to the fact that much of the ma­te­rial was writ­ten us­ing an Roland TR-808 rhythm ma­chine, a fa­vorite of old-school hip-hop pro­duc­ers.

“We were able to loop things and ex­tend the grooves, to where it was a lit­tle more rhyth­mic, rather than just straight-ahead rock rhythms,” Es­covedo says.

The sound of the LP was also marked by the records that Es­covedo had on ro­ta­tion. “We draw our in­spi­ra­tion from a lot of dif­fer­ent things,” he says. “(Chuck, Tony and) I will talk a lot about dif­fer­ent types of mu­sic and where we hear the al­bum’s sound go­ing.”

“This one was re­ally in­flu­enced by the band Sui­cide, the Clash — they al­ways seem to pop up — plus things like the Malian band Ti­nari­wen, Al­ge­rian rhythms like Rachid Taha, LCD Soundsys­tem. Plus, we al­ways lis­ten to ’50s doo wop, ’cause we love the way the vo­cals are ar­ranged.”

For Es­covedo, those pas­sions have come to de­fine the man­i­fold di­rec­tions his solo work has moved in, from the Vel­vet Un­der­ground in­flu­ence on early al­bums like 1992’s to the swag­ger­ing Stooges-meets-jim­mie Rodgers roots of 2001’s

“I can still lis­ten to all the Stooges and Mott the Hoople records I loved as a kid and feel as much fas­ci­na­tion and joy as I did then. A lot of what I love about mu­sic is still the stuff at my core,” he says. “But as my (play­ing and writ­ing) abil­ity has de­vel­oped, my mu­si­cal ap­petite has changed. I un­der­stand things a lit­tle bet­ter, and it’s a lit­tle more re­fined, and that comes through in my own work.”

Es­covedo will spend the bal­ance of 2012 sup­port­ing on tour. But he’s al­ready at work on new col­lab­o­ra­tions. He re­cently com­pleted an EP with an all-star group called the Fauntleroys, which fea­tures ex-voidoid Ivan Ju­lian, Chicago song­smith Nic Tremulis, and Zuzu’s Petals/ Mir­a­cle 3 drum­mer Linda Pit­mon. He says he hopes to ex­pand his writ­ing col­lab­o­ra­tion with Prophet into a duets record and a “Sto­ry­tellers”-type stage show.

Mean­time, Es­covedo says he is sat­is­fied with his mu­sic and the di­rec­tion his ca­reer has taken.

“I don’t have any thoughts of grandeur that I want to be a pop star. I never re­ally got into it for those rea­sons,” he says. “I have a style of mu­sic I can hon­estly say is all mine. It’s some­thing I’ve cre­ated, and I’m proud of the records I’ve made.

“Sure, I’m still rest­less as far as artis­tic ex­pres­sion is con­cerned, but I’m com­fort­able with where I’m at. The au­di­ence that I have and the peo­ple that come to lis­ten to me — it’s a real mu­sic-lov­ing au­di­ence. And that’s a cool thing; it’s all I ever re­ally wanted.”

In Jan­uary 2011, mem­bers of the best-sell­ing African mu­sic en­sem­ble Sierra Leone’s Refugee All Stars, a group that was formed in the midst of their name­sake coun­try’s bloody civil war, found them­selves once again on in­hos­pitable ter­rain.

“We cut the new record un­der se­vere weather in New York City win­ter,” says Reuben Koroma, the All Stars’ leader, song­writer, lead vo­cal­ist and drum­mer, re­call­ing the con­di­tions be­hind the mak­ing of

the group’s third al­bum, re­leased last month. “We are not ac­cus­tomed to se­vere cold. We come from Africa. Africa is hot all the time. So that was a ter­ri­ble ex­pe­ri­ence. How­ever, we made it.”

The All Stars are ex­pe­ri­enc­ing con­sid­er­ably bet­ter weather on their cur­rent U.S. tour, which in­cludes an ap­pear­ance Thurs­day at the Le­vitt Shell in Over­ton Park. For eco­nomic rea­sons, the tour fea­tures a stripped- down ver­sion of the group, which can num­ber as many as eight. Ac­com­pa­ny­ing Koroma will be gui­tarist Ashade Pearce, bas­sist Den­nis Bakarr San­noh, per­cus­sion­ist Christopher Wag­bay Davies, key­boardist Jah­son Gbas­say Bull, and Al­hadji Jef­frey Ca­mara, the now-san Fran­cisco-based rapper known as Black Na­ture who was only 15 years old when the All Stars cat­a­pulted to in­ter­na­tional fame in 2005.

The ve­hi­cle for their rise that year was a doc­u­men­tary by Amer­i­can film­mak­ers Zach Niles and Banker White — “Sierra Leone’s Refugee All

Todd Wolf­son

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