The Boxing Mirror Back Porch/EMI Music •••• Sound ••••
This is exactly the album you'd expect from an already thoughtful songwriter who nearly died last year: intense and haunting, with hints of celebration between the lines. That's always been familiar turf for Alejandro Escovedo, but his recent bout with hepatitis (and his subsequent marriage) has roused him to make one of his strongest albums. He's finally brought together the various styles he's adopted over the years - ghostly border music, Velvet-ish art pop, and glitter-era rock & roll - and made them fit together in a single context. The catalyst is his longtime hero John Cale, whose production sounds warm and inviting, maybe even commercial. From the lowdown opener "Arizona" to the valedictory "I Died a Little Today," Escovedo is alternately brooding and rocking, poetic and emotionally direct - and the romantic centerpiece, "The Ladder," is all of the above. The three closing tracks dull the effect a bit: the title song is an epic that doesn't quite come off, and it's bracketed by two versions of the throwaway rocker "Take Your Place." Then again, you can take those as another good sign - that Escovedo realizes he's still got time to mess around.