The Boxing Mirror by Alejandro Escovedo 

After the fight of his life, this singer-songwriter is back in the studio and back onstage.

The Boxing Mirror

Alejandro Escovedo

(Back Porch)

"What does it take to make this man a star?" David Fricke wrote in Rolling Stone. He was referring to a singer-songwriter of exceptional musical and lyrical talent named Alejandro Escovedo, and fans have long been asking the same question. That includes Memphis fans after any one of Escovedo's regular visits to town throughout the 1990s, where, believe it or not, the crowd knew for once to stop yakking, whether it was Escovedo launching into the tenderest of love songs or the hardest of rockers.

It's been awhile, though, since he and his band played Memphis, and for good reason. In 2002, the Austin-based Escovedo collapsed onstage in Arizona. He'd been diagnosed with Hepatitis C years before; alcohol and the rigors of the road had caught up with him. His new album, The Boxing Mirror, is therefore something of a miracle. The man's physical condition and the medicines used to treat it had made his future that uncertain.

The new album is Alejandro Escovedo back in signature form, if self-honesty counts as uppermost in your critical vocabulary. He's working here with musical hero/producer John Cale. He's working with his superior touring band, which can go from gentle to pile-driving in a heartbeat. He's got Eno-era Bowie going in "Dearhead on the Wall," stately Mexican balladry in the mournful "The Ladder," blistering guitarwork in a confident remake of "Sacramento and Polk," double-takes of "Take Your Place" (the better one: Prince-worthy), and a majestic, military march on the cryptic (and autobiographical?) title cut.

Is this one of the best Escovedo albums you ever heard, however? No, if you're used to his work bringing you to tears or rocketing you out of your seat; yes, if you consider that the man is again on his feet, in the studio, on the stage -- a star at what counts, and I'm not talking sales. -- Leonard Gill

Grade: B

Alejandro Escovedo and his band are at Automatic Slim's on Wednesday, August 16th, at 9:30 p.m.; admission is $15.

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