'Por Vida: A Tribute to the Songs of Alejandro Escovedo'

Texas platters

Phases and Stages

'Por Vida: A Tribute to the Songs of Alejandro Escovedo'

(Or Music)

Alejandro Escovedo's songs are the tango of love, push and pull, roses and neurosis. Stamping boots, pounding passion. Love and hope and sex and dreams. Still surviving on Main Street, the Austin icon has been exiled from stage and studio for more than a year now, shattered by hepatitis C. Illness is nothing if not a watershed of friends and family, and 31 tracks from three dozen celebrated songwriters attest to the love and respect the music community at large has for Escovedo. What better way to offer well-wishes than to raise one's voice in song, especially when the choral extending across the 2-CD Por Vida: A Tribute to the Songs of Alejandro Escovedo ultimately recalls one voice only? Lenny Kaye, for instance, strings up his tribute pulsating and precise with "Sacramento & Polk," while John Cale's dramatic reading of "She Doesn't Live Here Anymore" leaves Por Vida aching for Nick Cave. Nicholas Tremulis' thoughtful upstroke on "Velvet Guitar" reveals the mortality underlying the Escovedo rocker. Charlies Sexton and Musselwhite ring out a smoky blues mambo on "Everybody Loves Me," versus M. Ward, Vic Chesnutt, and Howe Gelb's indie truckstop dance on "Way It Goes." All that sung, it's the ladies holding down the fort: Lucinda Williams' drawling "Pyramid of Tears," Margo Timmons cantering with her sly Cowboy Junkies on "Don't Need You," and Caitlin Cary's off-handedly smoldering "By Eleven." Such are Por Vida's great rewards, but there are still plenty more awards to go round. Naturals: Steve Earle & Reckless Kelly ("Paradise"), Calexico ("Wave"), Son Volt ("Sometimes"), the Minus 5 ("I Was Drunk"). Could've Written: Jennifer Warnes ("Pissed Off 2am"), Jon Dee Graham ("Helpless"). Missed It by That Much: Jon Langford, whose artwork adorns PV, and Sally Timms ("Broken Bottle"), Los Lonely Boys ("Castanets"). On Peyote: Howe Gelb ("She Towers Above"). Which LP?: Charlie Sexton ("Dear Head on the Wall"), Rosie Flores ("Inside This Dance"). Pinch One-Hitter for Willie: Bob Neuwirth ("Rosalie"). Wishes He Were Al's Mother: Ian Hunter ("One More Time"). All in la Familia: Sheila E. & Pete Escovedo ("The Ballad of the Son and Moon"), Javier Escovedo ("The Rain Won't Help"), Mario Escovedo's Dragons ("Gravity"). Finally, Ruben Ramos ends the show with a trembling "Thirteen Years," Alejandro himself appearing for the encore: middle-of-the-road rocker "Break This Time." Por Vida will never usurp Escovedo's Gravity, With These Hands, or A Man Under the Influence, but veteran fans will want this collection because it and AlejandroFund.com are currently the best ways to extend aid to one particular vida.

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