Alejandro Escovedo's latest release, The Crossing, may be politically provocative — the title is a literal play on immigrants crossing the border — but it is more critically a story about belonging. "We thought of it like the soundtrack to a movie that hadn't been written yet," he said. "We wanted this to be timeless."
A collection of biting, emotional songs about two teens — one from Italy and one from Mexico — who meet in Galveston as dish washers and become friends over a shared love of punk music and the sense that they are both outsiders, The Crossing is a traditional pop-song-structured record, but with the story of a concept album. It is a direct and often jarring look inside the immigrant experience through the lens of two friends finding their way in the world.
The inspiration came from a road trip Escovedo took with Italian singer Antonio Gramentieri, who helped to co-write the album and whose band, Don Antonio, not only backed up Escovedo on the album, but is doing so on the road as well. The two traveled the backroads of Texas, speaking with people and those experiences shaped the writing on the album.
"We spoke to a lot of young people who are DREAMers," Escovedo said, referring to the DREAM Act, which provided a path to citizenship for children of immigrants but has come under attack since the 2016 presidential election. "We took their stories to heart."
In fact, he and Gramentieri plotted out the storyline for the record before recording any of the music and Escovedo didn't even write the lyrics until he was in the studio. He credits recording the album in Italy as opening up his writing even further. "I think being separated from Texas really liberated me so I could really let my imagination take off and get to the heart of the story."
And while the story is fictional, Escovedo admits much of his actual life is woven into the songs — the immigrant protagonist from Mexico is from his father's home town, he shares a love of punk music with the characters and the tales of living in Texas mirror some of his own. More importantly, the poignant friendship between the two young men is hung against the backdrop of Donald Trump's America, a reality difficult to escape, especially for the son of an immigrant. "We thought a lot about what our parents had been through," he says, explaining that his father was a Mexican immigrant. "We all had stories."
"Not only is the title about crossing borders, but it's about the innocence those boys had, looking for an America that no longer existed," he explains. "They crossed the line from boyhood to manhood, from fantasy to reality."
Escovedo, who is often unintentionally lumped in with country and Americana, exudes a punk rock ethos he gained from his time with bands like The Nuns and even the cowpunk-tinged Texas rock of Rank & File. Much in the way he found himself as a youngster in the music on the fringes of popular culture, the characters in The Crossing do the same. "The America they were looking for was really a community in which people were welcome and tolerant of different types of views," he said. "What was important is that they find that community in punk rock. They find the America they are looking for."
At 67, he remains one of the most authentic voices in Texas music. He may have slowed a bit in recent years after a bout with a Hepatitis C and a move from Austin to Dallas, but his dedication to not only great songwriting, but those early days in the counter culture are still strong. And his punk rock identity is the backbone of The Crossing, giving voice to a story that is both universal and deeply personal.
"What I love most about punk rock was that it was all about expressing yourself. It was about saying those things that nobody else would say for you."
Alejandro Escovedo brings The Crossing to Heights Theater, 339 West 19th , at 7 p.m. on January 6. Don Antonio (band) opens and backs Escovedo. For information, call 214-272-8346 or visit TheHeightsTheater.com. $24-$36.