Of all major living singer-songwriters, perhaps only Richard Thompson is at home in as many styles and formats as alt-country forebear Alejandro Escovedo, whose solo career began with a sudden death: His longtime wife, Bobbi, whom he'd recently divorced, killed herself in 1991. The records he produced in her shadow were some of the most emotionally wrenching a rock musician has ever waxed. The trick to those records -- a trick of the heart, perhaps -- is that Escovedo managed to mix resonant chamber music with raw country verve with the haunting tone of the Velvet Underground's "Pale Blue Eyes," all in a way that coheres emotionally. "We were trying to do what Brian Eno has done on Another Green World," Escovedo says, "but we were trying to make a Southwestern version of that."
What could've been a postmodern joke instead produced a whole new genre of music -- a style that Escovedo has virtually to himself. Escovedo's latest, By the Hand of the Father, is the musical companion to a play he wrote about the journey to America taken by his father and other Mexican immigrants. As with much of what Escovedo does, the play has inspired a journey inward. Thinking about his father's trip reinforced how important his own children are. (His six kids range from 3 to 31.) Still, his career keeps him on the road for 8 to 10 months a year, and that's hard to alter. "For people like me, at the level I perform on, the only way to sell records is to play live," he says. "We don't have heavy promotional machinery behind us, we don't have radio behind us. The only way is to go out and play, you know?"