Alejandro Escovedo’s distinguished career goes all the back to when his band the Nuns opened for the Sex Pistols in San Francisco in 1978.
The Mexican American rocker was a cowpunk pioneer with Rank and File. He led Austin, Texas, guitar army True Believers before embarking on an acclaimed solo career in which he’s artfully mixed punk and glam with narrative storytelling and collaborated with Bruce Springsteen, John Cale, David Bowie producer Tony Visconti, and members of R.E.M., among others.
But Escovedo has never made a record as timely as The Crossing, which follows immigrant boys named Diego and Salva — one Mexican, one Italian — as they confront struggle, strife, and racism while traveling up through Texas into Donald Trump’s America.
Escovedo wrote The Crossing with Antonio Gramantieri, the leader of Don Antonio, the northern Italian band that backed him while touring Europe in 2017.
Don Antonio will plug in behind Escovedo at World Cafe Live on Thursday as they bring their immigrant songs to Philadelphia.
The show will be the second Crossing date in the area. Escovedo and Don Antonio played their first concert together in America in September at the Mushroom Festival in Kennett Square in Chester County, which Escovedo says was a great experience.
It grew out of the experience of playing with Don Antonio. We flew over to Italy less than two years ago, my wife and I. We rehearsed for a couple of hours the first night, and then we began a 35-shows-in-40-days tour.
It was a really great tour. Then two months later, we toured southern Italy and I started seeing the links between Mexican culture and Italian culture, especially in the south, where the food is spicy and the desert meets the ocean.
I was shocked that it’s become so singular. I know it’s directed at anyone, any race that’s not white. But that [Trump] singled out Mexicans in his opening salvo, that there was so much hatred and the wall became such a dominant topic.
As a writer, you have the opportunity to immerse yourself in character. There have been times on albums like Gravity and 13 Years [both released in the 1990s after the suicide of his first wife, Bobbie, from whom he was separated] in which I spoke about an experience I had which was tragic and difficult to understand, and through song I was able to find my way to a better place.
But this album, because it’s such a huge thought process of making a concept album, and it could easily backfire on you — the minute you say the word concept album , people run in the opposite direction.
Absolutely. There are a lot of really kind of [terrible] concept albums …. We wanted to make a record that was timely but focused on the songs. We felt it could be an album that has a story and a message, yet if you took any of those songs and played them, they would be beautiful in themselves. Then it was easy to get into character, and really find myself in those characters.
Ritchie Valens, of course. The Sir Douglas Quintet. ? and the Mysterians. Maybe even Love, because they were integrated. The great thing about punk rock for us was that in the beginning, it was very inclusive …. It wasn’t just about playing guitar. If you had something to say and you had a way of expressing it that was interesting, the stage was yours.
And it also crossed the lines between artist and audience, which is something I’ve taken to heart …. Bands like Mott the Hoople and even Bowie, they were very close to the fans. I’ve always loved that part of it.
First of all, my love for Joe Ely is very respectful and strong. He embodies the idea of a Texas troubadour for other artists …. The storyline of “Silver City” fit so perfectly, it was an easy call to put it on the record.
In Joe’s version, it’s more like Woody Guthrie, who is traveling to Silver City and trying to make his mark and finds he’s not accepted. There’s no place for him. For Diego and Salva, they find that because of the color of their skin and culture, that they’re invisible.
I think it really captures anything I’ve ever wanted to do in music. The storytelling, the musical ambition of the record. At the core of it is this beautiful noisy punk rock, and it also ventures into this atmospheric soundtracky kind of vibe.
I think it’s really important that it’s not just about these two boys. It’s not just about being Mexican and Italian. It’s a story that we all share. It’s about being human.
We’re all human beings. We all suffer. We all have joy. We all have great expectations. We fall short sometimes. Some of us get up and continue, and some of us don’t. It’s all about dreams and desires and, you know, that beautiful part of youth where you go out and try to find it. That’s what the record’s really about.