On his 12th album, Burn Something Beautiful, Alejandro Escovedo says a couple of times that he’s “got nothing left to say”, or that “there’s no stories left to say”. It isn’t true, of course, or else he and co-conspirators Scott McCaughey and Peter Buck would have put out a bland instrumental album. What we do find with Escovedo here is a sense of coming to the end, of putting down guitars and wrapping up loves and saying farewells. Throughout the album, though, he finds peace, or at least a peace with transition, and this tension between calm and loss makes for a steady center through an emotional and exploratory album.
The explorations shouldn’t come as a surprise; after all, Escovedo’s fought hepatitis-C, gotten married, survived a hurricane, moved a couple thousand miles and picked up some new collaborators for a supergroup backing band. He’s willing to sing to us repeatedly that something is “alright”, but not out of a sense of complacency. Rather, his new songs reveal yearning and desire even as he shows us where to settle into a good spot. It might go without saying, but when the girl with the hazel eyes kisses you, go where she goes.
Likewise, Escovedo stays true to his central aesthetic even while pushing some new sounds. There’s a little bit of Nick Cave running through the album (or maybe it’s just the shadows around the thoughts), but Escovedo moves out in a few ways. For instance, “Shave the Cat” doesn’t quite know what to be. It’s a musical nod to “Bang a Gong”, but it scans like an aging answer to “Long Live Rock”. It’s hard to judge Escovedo’s tone here, as it’s a rocker that won’t speed up and won’t quite be silly in the middle of a reflective (but rarely somber) album.
In contrast, “Suit of Lights” feels like a Warren Zevon track, especially on the questioning chorus. Kelly Hogan adds vocals here, and her verse marks one of the album’s highlights, with direct lines like “Watched you shower / Watched you bathe / A bucket of blood in every note I played” bringing a completeness to the couple’s identity concerns. “Heartbeat Smile” provides classic pop songwriting (in fact, the opening riff and melodic sensibilities could have come from the ’60s, but the performance is contemporary), while “Horizontal” sticks to upbeat rock, and opens the album as its catchiest track. Throughout all of these sounds, Escovedo drives the guitars forward and pushes at whatever he’s doing; he makes his statements at the edge of his reach, but with desire unsatisfied.
On “Redemption Blues”, he steps furthest into the darkness, skirting violence without really threatening. He sings, “Someday I’ll find redemption / I’ll find a little peace”, yet the tinge of country blues never lets in the light, so it feels odd in the middle of an album largely about coming to understanding. As an anomaly, though, it’s indicative of Escovedo’s writing at the moment. His sense of “alright” and reconciliation to his life isn’t about easy peace; it’s about finding his spot in the midst of those storms and crises, and while that so often sounds settled on Burn Something Beautiful, songs like this one remind us that there’s always more—there’s always a past and always somewhere to get to. As bleak as the song is, it still offers the hope that peace and knowledge can come to us (a sentiment that’s truer the more you repeat it).
With complex feelings in accessible songs, Escovedo makes a full statement on his latest release. It’s easy on the ears and surprising in-between them, making it a strong moment from a confident artist who’s only as settled as he wants to be.