Rock snobs have always had a soft spot for musicians who bring a multi-cultural influence into rock. From The Beatles' foray into Indian music to the African influences of recent critic-darlings Vampire Weekend, a rock musician simply needs to whisper the name of another country in order to gain instant credibility.
With that in mind, it's no wonder that first-generation Mexican-American Alejandro Escovedo is held in such high esteem by rock snobs of every ilk. Now, I'm not saying Escovedo doesn't deserve a good amount of the recognition that he's received, but he's not really doing anything new or unique. Sure, there's a taste of Tejano music and Mexican culture, but at its core, The Boxing Mirror is a pretty generic imitation of guys like Lou Reed and Bruce Springsteen.
The first comparison that came to mind as I listened to album-opener "Arizona" was Lou Reed. I hate Lou Reed. Then I opened the liner notes and saw that John Cale produced the album. I like John Cale. With Cale's production and Reed's influence, the best and worst of the Velvet Underground are represented on The Boxing Mirror. When Cale's warm experimentation is combined with Escovedo's voice and lyrics, the album reaches quiet heights that are almost worth remembering. When Escovedo starts to rock out, the songs pretty much all sound like third rate Lou Reed ripoffs.
Now that I've aired my complaints, though, there are a few musical moments that I will carry with me for a long time. The accordion in the Tejano-flavored "The Ladder" breathes magic into the song, and when Escovedo sings "I'm so lonesome I could cry" in "Sacramento & Polk," it's like I'm hearing those six words for the very first time.
The paintings on the front cover and the tray card are strong images, but they don't translate well to the confines of a CD jacket. The text is easy to read, and the lyrics are included. It's a simple and effective package, but it's ultimately forgettable.
Listen if you like: If you fantasize about Lou Reed fronting Los Lobos, you'll love this.
If it were food, it'd be: Mexican food in Asbury Park, NJ.