Alejandro Escovedo Plays Susanna's Kitchen in Wimberley

Alejandro Escovedo appears at Susanna's Kitchen on Thursday, May 29, 2008.

"Few contemporary artists inspire the degree of rapturous critical praise, without the accompanying fame and fortune, as Alejandro Escovedo."

Stardom isn’t Escovedo’s goal. But throughout his lauded 14-year solo career, Escovedo’s artistic aspirations have always aimed as high as the stars. And all along, his work has inspired the sort of critical praise that is unequalled for a contemporary artist who hasn’t (yet) achieved widespread cultural impact and fame. He has consistently earned a virtual music press thesaurus of acclamation and enjoys an ever-expanding audience as devoted as any in rock’n’roll, thanks to the stunning breadth of his musical vision, depth of his emotional expression, and the sheer quality and musicality of his work. Or in short, the artistry of Alejandro Escovedo is as good as contemporary music gets.

The Boxing Mirror, produced by musical master and visionary John Cale, finds Escovedo at his finest yet, exceeding his already remarkable musical achievements.

Escovedo was born into a large Mexican-American family in San Antonio and raised in Southern California. From his birth, music was an essential element of the Escovedo family experience, with the Latin and Chicano styles of his parents’ generation mixing with the thrilling new sounds of rock’n’roll arriving on the radio. His father Pedro was a musician who had played in mariachi bands and labor camps during the Great Depression to eke out a living. Older brothers Pete and Coke are influential percussionists who helped fuse Latin music with rock’n’roll and modern jazz with their work in the bands Santana and Azteca as well as with a pantheon of esteemed artists. Younger brothers Javier and Mario, like Alejandro, both became rock’n’roll guitarists and songwriters.

He began playing guitar during his college years in the mid-1970s in San Francisco when he formed The Nuns, one of the seminal groups of the Bay Area punk movement. Escovedo then moved to New York City, arriving at the height of the downtown Manhattan new music scene to play with Judy Nylon and other acts. There he joined forces with fellow San Francisco punk scene veterans Chip and Tony Kinman (from The Dils) in Rank & File, who forged the early 1980s country-punk sound that was the first inklings of what later became known as alternative country.

Rank & File relocated to Austin, Texas, where Escovedo started writing songs after he left the band. He formed True Believers with his brother Javier and Graham, and they quickly became the leading lights of the Austin scene. Just a few weeks prior to the release of their second album, True Believers were dropped from their label, EMI Records, and the now legendary outfit sputtered to a halt soon after without ever receiving even close to their just due.

Escovedo's solo debut in 1992, Gravity, was immediately hailed on its release as “a near perfect album of stunning originality” by critic Rob Patterson in the Austin Chronicle. It went on to win Escovedo raves in the national media and “Musician of the Year” honors at the annual Austin Music Awards.

He followed Gravity with a series of albums that continued to earn unstinting high praise from the critical community: Thirteen Years (1993), With These Hands (1996), More Miles Than Money: Live 1994-1996 (1998), Bourbonitis Blues (1999) and A Man Under The Influence (2001). Years of grueling road work in North America and Europe brought Escovedo a devoted cadre of listeners. And even before the close of the 1990s, No Depression magazine hailed him as its “Artist of the Decade.”

In the process, Escovedo created what Rolling Stone’s Fricke calls “his own genre,” describing him as a “folk-blues classicist with a gritty, plaintive voice and an equal fondness for dirty boogie and spectral balladry.” He has toured solo as well as with a rock combo, a string quintet and various combinations and permutations thereof, and performed in the mid-1990s with his 13-piece Alejandro Escovedo Orchestra in his hometown of Austin. In 1994, Rykodisc released the True Believers set Hard Road, reissuing the band’s first album in tandem with their previously unreleased second recording.

Throughout 14 years as a solo act in which the rewards of artistic triumph and musical pleasures were leavened by tribulations and personal tragedy, Escovedo has struggled to balance the demands of touring to earn a living and support his family with the commitments of raising his children. In April 2003, during a performance of By the Hand of the Father in Tucson, Arizona, Escovedo fell critically ill from the effects of the Hepatitis C and was rushed to the emergency room.

His health crisis resulted in huge medical bills that, without insurance coverage, were well beyond his ability to pay. It also rendered him unable to earn a living by playing his music on tour and appearing in the play. But as soon as the news spread of Escovedo’s illness, friends and fans began to spontaneously send funds to assist in his treatment and support him and his family. The culmination of the benefit effort was Por Vida: A Tribute to the Songs of Alejandro Escovedo, a two CD set featuring 31 artists performing his songs, released in the fall of 2004. Some of the featured artists, like John Cale, Ian Hunter, Bob Neuwirth and Ian McLagan, were heroes and longtime inspirations to Escovedo. Others were musical peers: Lucinda Williams, Cowboy Junkies, Steve Earle, The Jayhawks, Son Volt, Peter Case, The Minus 5, Lenny Kaye and Calexico, to name a few. Austin friends such as Los Lonely Boys, Charlie Sexton and Jon Dee Graham contributed tracks, as did artists Escovedo had worked and recorded with like Jennifer Warnes, Tres Chicas, Ruben Ramos, Chris Stamey and Rosie Flores.

Looking back over the last three years, “It’s ironic that out of being so sick so many great things have happened,” Escovedo observes. With his renewed health has also come a greater clarity of thought and purpose that imbues The Boxing Mirror with a stunning emotional power. And with The Boxing Mirror, Alejandro Escovdeo has created what can truly be called the album of his life.

In June 2008, Alejandro Escovedo will release his 9th solo album, Real Animal, a collective journey through Escovedo's various musical incarnations from punk rock to string quintets. Recalling the people, places and influences that helped shape his career, Real Animal represents the primitive aspect of Escovedo's music - the instinct, the urgency and a survivor mentality that fuels his musical passion.

Ticket prices are $15 for adults, $10 for kids 14-18, kids under 14 free. Pie from Wimberley Pie Company, coffee from Hill Country Natural Foods, and tamales are also available. Susanna's Kitchen is a smoke free and alcohol free venue.