The qualities of Americana are derived from all things that define America. From blues guitar, to four chord rock-n-roll poetry, from a folk attitude to love lost and love won, from honest lyrics to a working class ethic; Americana translates musically to an identifiable sound full of grit and the human spirit. All of these ideals are represented in some form on Alejandro Escovedo’s greatest hits package titled True Believer. Alejandro’s career spans over 4 decades as he dabbled with the San Francisco punk scene of the 70s before settling into the alt-country genre he is best known for, or unknown for in this case. His career has featured 13 solo albums, many of them receiving critical praise, none of which pushed him into the national stage even though all the comforts of the American music can be found on his records. You got yer bar fight rock, folky pop, bluesy riffs and the ever present ballads, all of which compete for center stage on the two disc best of set.
Alejandro has the spirit of John Cougar Mellancamp with the bravado of a Steve Earl. His voice, like his songs, advertise a simplistic rootsy vibe void of any pretension and unafraid to tell stories of the struggles of life. Yet somehow, the 28 songs that document the best moments of Alejandro’s career, are hard to define.
True Believer exemplifies the qualities of an artist whose songs could be both a backdrop to some sketchy biker bar where chairs are sure to fly, or just as easily become a soundtrack for the lonely heart trapped in eternal solitude. The one attribute consistent throughout the two disc set is that there is a sense that Alejandro is solid and predictable. Like mashed potatoes and gravy, there is a certain comfort level which the Texas born musician radiates on every track, even though the double disc winds its way through his career in a non linear fashion. The question that arises, which is often synonymous with a best of album, is whether a compilation represents an artist’s true identity which is liable to vary greatly from album to album. Not being too familiar with his individual releases, I am left to wonder if there is more to discover about Alejandro which is not accurately presented in this set, particularly from the mid 90s era which seems to offer a series of polar characteristics combining his grittiest moments with soft piano ballads.
Normally, in a best of package, this kind of relationship exists between early and more recent records and acts as kind of a documented progression or transformation. Alejandro seems to defy genres in a single record, or at least that is the impression by the two or three songs represented from a given era. Regardless of the year, there is a consistency throughout his work that is undeniably Americana, and though Alejandro’s heritage, and certainly his name, would suggest a Mexican ancestry, the tracks offer little in the way of generational influence, except for a few Latin-esque riffs that are often fleeting. Alejandro’s best of compilation is a testament to a respectable career marked by a sound that exemplifies the true spirit of his home.