Alejandro Escovedo

With These Hands

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After recording two superb albums for the tiny independent label Watermelon Records, Alejandro Escovedo moved up, if not to the big leagues, then at least to AAA ball, when he signed with Rykodisc for his third solo set, With These Hands. While Escovedo's arrangements (he calls his band an orchestra without exaggeration) and Turner Stephen Bruton's production on Gravity and Thirteen Years were strikingly ambitious given their tiny budgets, With These Hands found them with a bit more money at their disposal, and if their approach wasn't remarkably different, the results display more polish and audibly greater depth than before, and Escovedo was able to bring along a few celebrity guests -- among them Willie Nelson, Jennifer Warnes, and his cousin Sheila Escovedo (aka Sheila E) -- who add to the music without calling undue attention to themselves. Lyrically, after the deeply (and sometimes painfully) personal material of Gravity and Thirteen Years, With These Hands found Escovedo stepping a bit outside himself to tell stories less obviously based on his own life, though the results are as compelling (and ring as true) as his more autobiographical material, especially the failed rock star's lament of "Pissed Off 2 A.M.," the dead of night heartache of "Sometimes," and "Nickel and a Spoon"'s story of a devastated family. If With These Hands seems less immediately striking than the two albums that preceded it, that's only because it's less surprising -- with his first two solo albums, Alejandro Escovedo announced himself as a world class talent with a singular style, and if With These Hands doesn't break much new ground for him, it shows he's still in full command of his considerable gifts as a musician, and it's an impressive achievement.

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