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Crossing borders, jumping barriers, taking risks, betting it all: that’s the path Alejandro Escovedo has been taking in his lifelong search for the heart of rock and roll. The epic 17
Crossing borders, jumping barriers, taking risks, betting it all: that’s the path Alejandro Escovedo has been taking in his lifelong search for the heart of rock and roll.
The epic 17 song suite comprising The Crossing is about that journey: searching, but not necessarily finding, eyes and ears open all the way. Ranging from sweeping orchestral numbers to classic rock to bursts of 70s punk, the collection finds Escovedo delving further into his lifelong musical journey across his most sonically diverse work yet.
“This says more about me than any of my records without it being a record about me,” Alejandro says.
The Crossing tells the tale of two boys, one from Mexico, one from Italy, who meet in Texas to chase their American rock and roll dreams. They discover a not-so-welcoming, very different place from the Promised Land they imagined, with cameos from the likes of Wayne Kramer of the MC5 and James Williamson of the Stooges to show the boys the way.
A Mexican-American kid with Texas roots and California raising taking on immigration issues in two continents with an Italian band, no less, makes perfect sense — if you know Alejandro Escovedo. Forever the curious explorer, he’s been a punk of the rebel kind in The Nuns, a cowpunk of the non-Western variety in Rank and File, commander of a guitar army in The True Believers, an orchestral conductor in his solo work, and a sensitive boy who has outrun death, demons, lust, and lost love in his songs. He has collaborated with Bruce Springsteen, John Cale, Los Lobos, Peter Buck & Scott McCaughey, Los Texmaniacs, and Chuck Prophet. No Depression magazine declared him the Artist of the Decade.
Two years ago, with a string of European tour dates booked, he went looking for a band from the Continent to back him up. Don Antonio, a seasoned, all-instrumental band from Modigliana , in the northern Italian province of Emilia-Romagna, came highly recommended, but Alejandro wasn’t so sure at first. “They didn’t look like a rock and roll band,” he says. Then he started asking around. Their reputation sealed the deal. “Turns out they’d played with all my friends – Dan Stuart, Howe Gelb, Steve Wynn. Everybody knew them. Apparently, at one time or another, everybody toured with them as a band, made friends with them, or played the festival they put on every year.”
He sent the band a list of thirty songs before meeting up in Modigliana . “We had dinner,” Alejandro says. “We rehearsed a day and a half, then did 35 gigs in 40 days in ten different countries across Europe.
“I fell in love with them.”
Two months later, he was back for more tour dates including the south of Italy.
“That’s when it hit me how similar Mexican culture and Italian culture can be, especially in the south where the food is very spicy, the language is very different, and the desert meets the ocean.”
He learned about a deeper history. His new bandmates teased him for thinking 200 years was a long time.
The stories Alejandro Escovedo has been telling about the great migration across North America over the past 150 years mirrors stories that have been playing out for centuries in Europe, Africa, and the Middle East. “It’s ancient,” he says. “It’s been going on for centuries. It’s encoded in the DNA of all of us.”
The stories and the melding of music led the band and the artist to extend the collaboration into the studio. “I started developing this idea where a young boy from southern Italy named Salvo and a young boy from Mexico named Diego would meet in South Texas,” Alejandro says. “They were looking for the America they had heard about, seen in films, heard on records,” he says. “They go looking for the MC5, the Stooges, the Dolls, the Ramones, all the American bands that they love. They go looking for the authors, Kerouac and Ginsberg.” Without saying it, they come across a very conservative America. “They find they are in a different America, one that wasn’t as open and free as they had believed it was going to be.” But the story is not just that of Diego and Salvo, it also mirrors that of Alejandro and the co-writer of his songs Antonio Gramentieri.
Antonio, Don Antonio’s guitarist and leader, “speaks very good English, he’s well read, an ex-music journalist” Alejandro says. “He was easy to communicate with.” The album was recorded in a month at a farmhouse in Villafranca, Italy with Brian Deck co-producing (Modest Mouse, Gomez, Iron & Wine). “Playing with these guys, it came out naturally, it was coming out without any thought at all. The things with Italians and their music is, they’re always reaching for melody. It’s always very romantic, even when it’s tragic.” The band also features Denis Valentini on bass, Matteo Monti on drums, Franz Valtieri and Gianni Perinelli on horns plus Nicola Peruch on keyboards.
“My thoughts seem to fit very well with their kind of playing, the instrumentation we had, and the way they approach it,” Alejandro says. “They’re not a rock band. They aren’t a band that grew up playing New York Dolls covers. They grew up playing their own cinematic music. When we get into this orchestral thing, they totally embrace it.”
Keeping the Escovedo edge sharp on The Crossing are his personal heroes Williamson and Kramer. Additional guests include Peter Perrett and John Perry from UK cult band The Only Ones, recording together for the first time since 1980. Joe Ely features on both his own track, “Silver City,” as well as the title track. Rio Navidad – a spoken word track about a Texan ranger – was written by novelist and bandleader Willy Vlautin, and read by his bandmate Freddy Trujillo from Richmond Fontaine and The Delines.
“I wanted them in there because Salvo and Diego were looking for that attitude, that kind of perspective in rock and roll,” Alejandro says. “There’s a line in ‘Sonica USA:’ “I saw the Zeroes and they looked like me/This is the America I want to be/Anarchy in Hollywood/land of the free.’
“When we were playing as the True Believers early on [in the 1980s] we’d play San Marcos, San Antonio [Texas] and get all these Chicano kids in denim vests and Iron Maiden patches. I remember thinking they were into us, not necessarily for the music, but for the fact we were there on stage. They loved that we were doing what we were doing. I wanted to bring the Zeros into it because to me the Zeros were so different than any other band that was happening at the time.
“Salvo and Diego see the Plugz at Larchmont Hall, Cypress Hill – they love everything that has something they can relate to,” says Escovedo. “Seeing Love, the band, was like that to me. They were Chicano, black, white – there weren’t a lot of bands like that. Sam the Sham, Thee Midnighters, the Sir Douglas Quintet. All of that is what I experienced as a kid.
“The Crossing has parts of everything I’ve done and everything I want to do,” Alejandro says. “Lyrically, I say a lot of things I’ve never said, that I held back on. ‘Teenage Luggage’ is about the racism in music and things I’ve encountered along the way, the kinds of things I grew up with as a kid in Orange County, trying to be a surfer. Surfers hated Mexicans.”
Alejandro has lived The Crossing. Now he invites you to join Salvo and Diego as they blaze their trail across America. It’s a journey like none you’ve experienced before.
“America is beautiful/America is ill/America’s a blood-stain
In a honky-tonk kill”
-from “Teenage Luggage”
Excellent. Think Townes Van Zandt and Iggy Pop teaming up for a film noir soundtrack” -BILLBOARD
“Scorching” – ROLLING STONE “Immigrant Epic” – 9/10 UNCUT “An essential acquisition” GLIDE
“A rock ‘n’ roll epic poem, The Crossing combines robust and rollicking rock and roll with the beauty of a symphony.” – SALON
“A true epic, full of endless details to discover. In 2018, there may be no artist more important to the genre than Alejandro Escovedo” – NO DEPRESSION
“Alejandro Escovedo has recorded one of the finest albums of his storied career” – LONE STAR MUSIC
“The Crossing proves another way forward for our one-man Johnny Thunders, Joey Ramone, and Neal Cassady.” – **** AUSTIN CHRONICLE
“Escovedo’s art is in the literate storytelling that is implicitly wedded to a sonic tapestry that stuns.” – NPR MUSIC
“This is a very important record. It is important for many reasons which prodigiously happen to keep together quality, musical charme and a big idea” – ROOTSHIGHWAY / Record of the Month
“An universal jukebox overload. The most quintessential release of the veteran’s catalog” – THAT MUSIC MAG
“A great rock’n’roll record. Yet in its structure, and in the way it invokes all the senses and emotions, it’s the rare rock’n’roll record you could truly say was cinematic” – THE SAMPLER
“Reflective, passionate and defiant, like Escovedo himself” – WASHINGTON POST
“Rocks mightily…” – THE CHICAGO SUN-TIMES
“This relentlessly inventive album is a memorable trip.” – MOTHER JONES
“One of the most passionate, relevant, politically charged and personal projects he has released in a career pushing 40 years” – AMERICAN SONGWRITER
(Saturday) 10:30 pm - 12:30 am
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PORTLAND, Oregon — Sometimes, fate’s just a damned cruel thing. But when it nearly capsizes the career of an acclaimed band in the blink of an eye, the band’s only
PORTLAND, Oregon — Sometimes, fate’s just a damned cruel thing. But when it nearly capsizes the career of an acclaimed band in the blink of an eye, the band’s only prudent choice is to hang in there until the ship is ready to sail again. That’s what The Delines did while supporting the recovery of lead singer Amy Boone, who underwent three years of treatment and rehab after both her legs were severely broken when she was hit by a car in Austin, Texas. What sustained their spirit, according to guitarist and songwriter Willy Vlautin, was knowing they already had most of their sophomore album, The Imperial, in the can.
Not quite three years after their momentum was so rudely interrupted, the band will finally release The Imperial on January 11th 2019 via Décor Records, picking up where they left off following their stellar 2014 debut, Colfax. Like that album, The Imperial features Damnations, TX co-founder Boone evoking a beat-up Dusty Springfield or a weary Rickie Lee Jones on 10 tracks penned by Vlautin, who is also lead singer/songwriter for Richmond Fontaine whom broke up in 2016 and an acclaimed novelist (two of his books have become major films).
Upon its release, Colfax earned the Delines plaudits from fans, critics and tastemakers like the Drive-by Truckers’ Patterson Hood, who picked them as 2014’s best new band in No Depression. Uncut gave Colfax nine out of 10 stars, praising its “widescreen romanticism” and proclaiming it “the richest collection of songs Vlautin has written.” Colfax wound up on a dozen yearend top-10 lists and snagged a couple of album-of-the-year accolades — a remarkable feat for a band that had never played live and had rehearsed for only a week before recording.
“Colfax was an experiment,” Vlautin says. “The Imperial is the result of touring, solidifying the lineup and months of rehearsal.”
By the time they began recording it in Portland with producer John Morgan Askew, they had successfully toured Europe and Australia, including sold-out dates in the U.K. and Ireland.
Unfortunately, Boone’s accident put a stop to everything. “We were all just devastated when Amy got hit,” Vlautin says. “I mean, she was just walking on a sidewalk in a parking lot, and the next thing you know …”
The next thing was nine surgeries, painful skin grafts and learning to walk again (she now uses a cane crafted by a bandmate). It took two years before she was able to fly from Austin to Portland to finish the album.
“I was still pretty messed up from getting hit,” Boone recalls. “The outside world seemed like one big, dangerous obstacle course. Every step of the way I had to talk myself down from panic attacks. I remember when Willy and [drummer] Sean Oldham picked me up, I suggested I’d be better off in the back seat with a blindfold and a cigarette.”
Not that anyone could tell from listening to the album. If anything, it serves as a testament to the band’s collective resolve — and talent. Not to mention Vlautin’s songwriting, which vividly paints worlds both romantic and lonely, desperate and hopeful. On “Holly the Hustle,” he relates the harrowing tale of a girl who grows up to join the lowdown life. In the horn-drenched “Where Are You Sonny?” a woman searches for her missing boyfriend. The title song tells the story of a long-split couple who meet again years later, following his release from prison.
Equally adept at sounding broken-hearted and optimistic, weary and resilient, Boone conveys these characters in a voice that’s grittier than Bobbie Gentry’s and more lonesome than Sammi Smith’s, and steeped in the soul-ballad tradition. It’s the voice Vlautin fell in love with when he first heard it during a tour Richmond Fontaine did with Damnations, TX, the band Boone had formed with her sister, Deborah Kelly.
“There wasn’t a night that I didn’t sit by the stage and listen to them sing,” he recalls. “I’ve always loved their voices. It started when I wrote a duet called ‘Post to Wire’ for one of them to sing with me. I had no confidence back then, so I decided the first sister I started talking to, I’d ask to sing the song. It happened to be Deborah.”
She also sang on the Richmond Fontaine album The High Country, and was going to tour with the band, but backed out when she became pregnant. Boone wound up filling in.
“On the road, I’d listen to her warm up and I started dreaming about being in a band where she sang all the tunes,” Vlautin explains. “That’s how the Delines started — with me wanting to hide in the back and listen to Amy sing.”
He spent the next year writing those tunes. Then, he says, “I wrote her a sorta thesis on why she should join up with me. Luckily, she said yes.” Then he tapped RF drummer Oldham. “He’s so damn cool and good,” Vlautin says, “it brought the idea of the Delines to life.”
Portland’s Freddy Trujillo signed on to play bass. The Decemberists’ Jenny Conlee contributed keyboards, but because of her other commitments, multi-instrumentalist Cory Gray stepped in to round out the band’s cinematic, late-night country-soul sound with keyboard and trumpet. “He’s been our ace in the hole ever since,” says Vlautin. “So much of The Imperial is influenced and inspired by him.”
To say they’re looking forward to sharing it with the world is a bit of an understatement. “It’s been a slow, hard recovery for Amy,” Vlautin notes. “It’s amazing how tough she is. It took us a long time, but The Imperial is finally done and the Delines get to be a band again.”
(Sunday) 3:00 pm - 4:30 pm
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The cover of The Sadies’ new album is a powerful image of the northern lights made by photographer David Kilabuk in Pangnirtung, Nunavut, a sight few of us will ever
The cover of The Sadies’ new album is a powerful image of the northern lights made by photographer David Kilabuk in Pangnirtung, Nunavut, a sight few of us will ever get to behold with our own eyes. Yet, the awe-inspiring natural beauty and mystery captured in the photo are an ideal reflection of the music contained within. No further embellishment seems necessary.
That’s been the essence of The Sadies’ story ever since the quartet comprised of singer/guitarists Dallas and Travis Good, bassist Sean Dean and drummer Mike Belitsky first exploded onto the North American scene 20 years ago. Back then there was still something called “alt-country,” a catchall for artists striving to carry on traditions with punk rock attitude. The Sadies certainly fit that description, but the breadth of their skills and musical knowledge was unparalleled since a group of fellow Torontonians left Ronnie Hawkins in the mid-‘60s to take a job backing Bob Dylan.
As the aurora borealis shifted with each album The Sadies made, the overall picture took on more defined colours. On top of that was the incredible list of collaborations—Neko Case, R&B legend Andre Williams, The Mekons’ Jon Langford, Jon Spencer, Robyn Hitchcock, John Doe, Buffy Sainte-Marie, Gord Downie, Neil Young for fuck’s sake!—each one pushing The Sadies’ own sound into new, unmapped territory. Eventually, more time was taken in between albums as focus shifted to their original songwriting, and what was once the best live band in Canada became the best band in Canada, period.
Is it fair then to call Northern Passages their masterpiece? Yes, at least until the next album comes along. With “Riverview Fog” setting a haunting tone off the top, the sense of time collapsing is palpable. The psych-folk touches are no mere homage; this is the sound of our inscrutable world, and how we manage to survive in it. The song began as a letter to their friend Rick White, whose contributions, both musical and visual, have played a huge role in The Sadies’ story. Although White wasn’t involved with Northern Passages, embedded within “Riverview Fog” is hope that White will return to the fold.
Conversely, other friendships are on display, specifically the track “It’s Easy (Like Walking),” sung by Kurt Vile who became a convert after touring in support of The Sadies years ago. Without a second thought, he laid down his vocal part in the midst of his own grueling tour schedule. It’s one of the album’s standouts to be sure, but resides in the shadow of Northern Passage’s centrepiece, “The Elements Song.” Perhaps never before has everything The Sadies do best been harnessed in the span of five minutes. And perhaps fittingly, it was the starting point for Northern Passages when the band convened at the home of Dallas and Travis’ parents north of Toronto to record throughout the winter of 2015, with Dallas once again handling production duties.
“That was the first song I wrote for this album, and it was completely an extension of our last record, Internal Sounds,” Dallas Good says. “It took the longest to write, and took the longest to record, so in a way it gave the record this daunting feeling.”
However, Dallas is quick to note that Northern Passages contains several humourous moments, albeit of the extremely dark variety he’s known for. One is the album’s most overt “country” song, “God Bless The Infidels,” a scathing takedown of religious hypocrisy perfectly suited to our current social climate. Although Dallas has never proclaimed any political allegiances in his work, there are times like now when reality checks such as this are absolutely necessary.
As Dallas has found his songwriting voice over the last several albums, so too has Travis on Northern Passages. That’s evident on the tracks “Through Strange Eyes,” “Questions I Never Asked” and “As Above, So Below,” some of Travis’ strongest material yet. “I always want to hear Travis perform songs that show what he’s capable of,” Dallas says. “He did that all over this record, especially the three songs on which he sings lead.”
The overall group mentality of huddling in a basement for several months, Big Pink-style, actually led to some parallels to the 2004 project The Unintended with Rick White and Blue Rodeo’s Greg Keelor. Northern Passages’ hazy instrumental “The Noise Museum” would have fit nicely alongside that record’s deep woods psychedelia, while closing track “The Good Years” (containing among other killer lines, “He haunted her before he was dead”), is a prime example of the “northern gothic” approach The Sadies have all but patented.
Despite the eclecticism at the heart of The Sadies’ sound, Northern Passages’ main strength is a cohesiveness that gives it a more consistent feel overall. Dallas credits this in part to recording with no time restrictions or distractions, and, significantly, by returning to the same space where he and Travis first started playing in bands. “We had nothing to lose by trying to make the record down there, and we weren’t sure if anything good would come out of it,” he says. “But removing any unfamiliar elements allowed us to focus a lot better. My parents’ basement turned out to be my favourite studio yet.”
Given all of their associations and tireless touring regimen, it can seem at times as if The Sadies are everywhere, all the time. Yet, they are a band that fans cling to like a closely guarded secret, with each new release fulfilling the promise to reach further, for all of our sakes, not just their own. With Northern Passages, the time has come to make room for more on this wild acid-folk-country-punk trip, and trust me, we’ll be better off because of it.
(Sunday) 10:30 pm - 12:30 am
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