Over more than 35 years of touring and recording, Alejandro Escovedo has played punk, rock, folk, country, and Latin music. But no matter the style, Escovedo’s songs tend to default to a dreamy drone. Sometimes Escovedo plays loud, with wildly reverberating guitar and rattling drums; sometimes he’s more muted, sticking to the soft hum of a violin or cello over acoustic guitar. But Escovedo is a cool customer regardless, singing in his pleasantly raspy voice about a life spent on the road, watching people and places slip past him. There’s an effortlessness about Escovedo’s songs, such that listeners could easily miss that he’s singing about desperate folks in desperate situations—and that sometimes the desperate person is Escovedo himself.
Escovedo’s 11th solo album, Big Station, is more deceptive than most. Working again with his recent songwriting collaborator Chuck Prophet and producer Tony Visconti, Escovedo has made his most consistently cheery-sounding album, from the scorching boogie of “Man Of The World” to the bouncy spoken-word silliness of “Headstrong Crazy Fools” and the clap-happy groove of “Party People.” The record has its more overtly serious moments, too, such as the spooky drug-war narrative “Sally Was A Cop” and the yearning ballad “San Antonio Rain.” But for the most part, Big Station takes its cues from the catchier, zippier sides of R&B and new wave, to the extent that at times it sounds as tossed-off and frivolous as the train noises Escovedo makes on the title track.
But again, form and content aren’t always in sync on an Escovedo album. Initially, the buzzy “Bottom Of The World” sounds like pure pop pleasure, except that the lyrics are about how Escovedo’s hometown of Austin is crumbling along with the rest of society, and how the singer is crumbling, too. Escovedo wails about loss but resolves to cling tenaciously to life in the slinkily soulful “Can’t Make Me Run,” and shouts that he’s choosing love over everything in the fist-pumping “Common Mistake.” But in both cases, the titles are a cue that no matter how defiant or good-spirited Escovedo may seem, it’s all in reaction to feeling adrift, hounded, and unsure.