While Alejandro Escovedo had shown plenty of versatility over the first 15 years of his career in music -- playing with early punk ravers the Nuns, prescient alt-country upstarts Rank and File, and roots rock firebrands the True Believers, among many others -- it wasn't until the Believers took shape that he began to display his formidable gifts as a songwriter, and with his first solo album, Gravity, Escovedo belatedly made it clear that he possessed one of the strongest and most distinctive lyrical voices of his generation. Opening with "Paradise," a haunting first-person narrative of a man about to be hanged, Gravity is a strikingly accomplished set of songs that deal with love ("Broken Bottle," "Five Hearts Breaking"), death ("She Doesn't Live Here Anymore"), and loss ("The Last to Know," the title song) in deeply personal terms, and Escovedo tells his stories with a talent for finely woven detail that would be the envy of a first-rate novelist. And the diversity of Escovedo's years of musical experience shows in the album's arrangements, which range from quiet, contemplative pieces structured around cello and piano ("Broken Bottle," "She Doesn't Live Here Anymore") to full-on, amped-up barrelhouse rock & roll ("Oxford," "One More Time"); Turner Stephen Bruton's clean, unobtrusive production gets all the details on tape with admirable clarity. Not every songwriter has the luxury of spending a decade and a half on the sidelines honing his craft before making a solo bow, but even with that advantage, there are few people who have the talent and vision to create an album as strong and moving as Gravity; to call it an "auspicious debut" is to risk understatement.
by Mark Deming