by James Gamble, Burlington Writers Workshop
Throughout the 2013-14 season, members of the Burlington Writers Workshop contribute their thoughts on Flynn performances in an effort to generate conversation about meaningful arts events in our community. In this post, James Gamble previews An Evening of Stories and Songs with Shelby Lynne and Alejandro Escovedo, Saturday, September 28 at 8 pm on the MainStage. For tickets, visit www.flynntix.org.
I wish I had gotten into Escovedo “back in the day,” but I’m happy to finally get familiar with his work. When you listen to Escovedo today it’s as though your listening to an amalgam of the last 40 years of rock music (serious rock music, that is). He’s a musical gymnast, going ‘round-the-world on his electric guitar Pete Townshend-style one minute, and sharing a delicate folk story on his acoustic the next.
There’s no telling what Escovedo may have in store for us on September 28 when he plays the Flynn Center with the indomitable Shelby Lynne—the guy has such range and depth, he could melt our hearts or have us pogoing in the aisles like it’s 1978 again. But make no mistake, Escovedo’s sound is in no way retro or nostalgic. He has done what few musicians with his longevity in the business have been able to do—continually progress.
If you trace Escovedo’s roots and map them to his soulful, yet edgy sound today, you hear not just the current incarnation of his musical progression, but bits and pieces of everything that has come before.
First, there’s the punk—and it’s the real deal. In the mid-1970s Escovedo formed The Nuns, an early entrant onto the San Francisco punk scene. These guys developed a large local following and gained enough notoriety to open for such punk icons as The Ramones and The Sex Pistols. When The Nuns burned out in 1979, Escovedo hooked up with fellow punkers Chip and Tony Kinman from the then defunct Dils to form Rank and File, which beautifully fused punk roots with traditional country. Often referred to as “cowpunk,” Rank and File had a short-lived, but critically acclaimed, career including an appearance on PBS’s Austin City Limits.
As the Kinmans faded into oblivion following a couple of disastrous recordings, Escovedo rose from the ashes and, in 1982, formed yet another highly acclaimed group with his brother Javier, True Believers. This Austin-based band was greatly admired by some of the most respected musicians of the time (they toured frequently with Los Lobos), but their unique combination of soulful songwriting and punk-infused sonic energy didn’t quite catch on commercially.
So it seems perfect that Shelby Lynne will share the stage with Escovedo. Lynne brings along an eclectic musical profile that spans everything from country, blues, and soul to rock, jazz, and pop. Lynne, unlike Escovedo, was destined to be a solo artist practically from the beginning. With the exception of a few appearances on stage with her musical parents when she was a child, Lynne has been her own woman (no pun intended Brad Paisley) since the release of her debut album in 1989.
Lynne garnered a lot of attention in 2000 for winning the Grammy for “Best New Artist” with her great album I Am Shelby Lynne—interesting, since she had more than a decade in the business and five other albums under her belt by that time. But it was good for us, the listeners, because that really brought her to the attention of a much broader audience. Not that Lynne would ever be boxed in! Her creative independence is what makes her, well, Shelby Lynne. It’s what brought her early success duetting with country music legend George Jones and then, more recently, with rocker Peter Wolf.
It is, therefore, only natural that we should find her sharing the stage with Escovedo. It’s almost as though the two have been on a cosmic trajectory toward each other. Neither is anything you might call “mainstream,” yet both are a defining force in the pantheon of American music.