Slim like a knife, looking sharp, vest buttoned, guitar in hand. Alejandro Escovedo says Texas, but he speaks New York. He looks Austin, but he wears L.A. At Club Helsinki, on an April evening, Escovedo, 62, but not a day over 45, takes on a new role — Duke Ellington from Saltillo. The Duke wrote music for the ages, but he penned charts for his particular band of the day. Escovedo, too, lets his players sign his work. David Pulkingham is gone, so is Billy White. Where Joe Eddie Hines once blazed across the spectrum, where John Dee Graham used to riff almighty, now Ricky Ray Jackson takes the chair — literally on pedal steel and figuratively on six-string.
In Hudson, songs from Big Station (“San Antonio Rain,” “Bottom of the World”) take on a new shimmer. Songs from Gravity (“Paradise”) remember leaner, younger days and sing again. And “Castanets” just fucking rocks, don’t argue, it’s the truth.
Review by Richard Brody
Photographs by Andrzej Pilarczyk
I was still recovering from a Bootsy Collins hangover, and I mean that in the best possible sense, but also anticipating the return of Alejandro Escovedo & the Sensitive Boys to The Egg’s Swyer Theater. It had been the better part of two years since their last visit, and there was a new album, “Big Station,” and two new Sensitive Boys.
Chris Searles replaced long-time Alejandro sidekick Hector Munoz on drums, while Billy White replaced David Pulkingham on guitar. The latter change was somewhat of a shock, since Pulkingham played guitar, added keyboards and sang background vocals on the new release… and he always seemed to be the perfect complement for Alejandro on stage. Bobby Daniel, the sole returning Sensitive Boy, was once again supplying the bottom on bass. For long-time fans – and most in attendance seemed to fit that category – the evening would be about how the new band and new material worked. “Big Station,” to a somewhat lesser degree than its two most recent predecessors “Real Animal” and “Street Songs of Love,” brings out more of the punky, garage and glam sides of Alejandro than some of his earlier solo work.
Alejandro Escovedo has been touring with a trio for the past several years in support of his last two albums, “Real Animal” and “Street Songs of Love.” Their recent Club Helsinki show provided ample selections from both albums – some of the standouts being “Chelsea 78” and “Sensitive Boys” from the former and “This Bed Is Getting Crowded” and “Anchor” from the latter.
Like most really good songwriters, Escovedo combines simplicity, universal themes and pinpoint emotional observations. Who hasn’t been in a romantic relationship and felt that there was a third party present either real, feared or floating like a ghost from the past, as in “This Bed Is Getting Crowded”?
When alt-country, roots-rockin’ icon Alejandro Escovedo named his current band the Sensitive Boys, he took the name from a song of the same title on his 2008 album, “Real Animal.”
And in “Sensitive Boys” (the song), Escovedo declares, “Don’t let em get you down, Sensitive Boys/Turn your amps up loud/Go ahead and run us off/But make your baby proud.”
Last Thursday night at The Egg in Albany, the Sensitive Boys (the band) did just that. Backing up Escovedo, drummer Hector Munoz, guitar hero Dave Pulkingham and bassist Bobby Daniel weren’t really the what you might call “sensitive.” Rather, they were biting at the bit, plugged in and fired up to play a night of fast ‘n’ furious songs drawn from Escovedo’s vast catalog of 10 albums released over the course of the past 11 years.
Up on stage and armed to wield a bevy of stinging guitar lines, Escovedo asked the audience to give him a minute so his band could make a few last minute adjustments to their instruments. Someone in the audience shot back, “I got all night, except I got to go to work by 8 o’clock in the morning.”
Alejandro Escovedo has been knocking out one great album after another since his solo debut in 1992 – and he made some mighty fine albums before that with such bands as Rank & File and the True Believers.
Sadly, he still hasn’t been able to break out of cult status and into mainstream success. The small crowd of discerning folks at the Calvin Theatre last week didn’t care. They already knew that talent is no guarantee of success in the music biz. And they already knew about Escovedo’s towering musical talent.
Escovedo and his lean, mean power-trio of a band, the Sensitive Boys, stepped out on stage swinging for the fences with an amped-up, bristling “Always a Friend.” They concentrated on the new album, “Street Songs of Love,” early on, cranking it up for serious, no-frills rockin’ on “This Bed’s Getting Crowded” and the roaring garage-rock nugget “Tender Heart.” Throughout the night, guitarist David Pulkingham was nothing short of amazing.
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