Alejandro Escovedo: The Boxing Mirror

Alejandro Escovedo
The Boxing Mirror
Back Porch

Three years ago this Texas-born roots-music veteran was sidelined in Arizona by an attack of symptoms caused by hepatitis C. When his health status backed away from the brink of death, he was sidelined by medical bills he couldn't pay, as well as the realization that he had to significantly alter his lifestyle in order to cope with the disease he didn't feel like giving a second opportunity to kill him. Compare this backstory to those that anchor 99 percent of alt-country records and you'd be right to expect profundity from The Boxing Mirror.

For the most part, it delivers. The album peaks early with opener "Arizona," a somber recounting of Escovedo's hospital stay in which the songwriter eschews soap-opera melodrama for bone-dry reflection. "One kiss just led to another," he sings over swirling strings, burbling keyboards, and a funeral-march drum beat, illustrating the seductive simplicity of the alcoholism that inflamed his condition. That tone persists throughout Boxing Mirror, as in "Dear Head on the Wall," where discordant strings jab at Escovedo as he describes how "the softness of knowing hurts," and in "I Died a Little Today," which producer John Cale gives a slow, hymnlike throb.

Still, it's not all hard-won gravity: "Take Your Place," Mirror's most rocking cut, could be Bruce Springsteen fronting the New Power Generation. (Incidentally, Sheila E is Escovedo's niece.) An appealingly disposable rave-up, the tune captures the sound of relief in all its lightheaded glory.