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They say death’s the only peace the poor understand.

May 5, 2009

I’m really not good at celebrating Cinco de Mayo. I don’t have an ounce of Latino in me, and while I quite enjoy their music, food and beer, I also must say I fall short on the tequila front. I haven’t had a drop of tequila since my 22nd birthday. It was one of those nights that you have all too often in college where you say, “I’m never doing that again,” but then you end up doing it the next weekend. Well, I said “I’m never doing that again.” And I never did.

However, another Mexican product that I’m mighty grateful crossed into American territory years and years ago is the Escovedo family. I’m a huge fan of Alejandro, but he’s not the only musician in the lot — his older brother Coke spent time amongst Santana’s ranks, whilst Pete made a permanent mark on Latin percussion that his daughter Sheila E. was all too happy to also indulge in. Al’s younger brother Javier played with him in the True Believers, one of the most underappreciated bands ever to come out of Austin (which is saying a lot, as that’s still a city full underappreciated musicians).

Reading up on Alejandro, I learned that he actually spent years estranged from his parents (they ultimately reconciled, and “Evita’s Lullaby” on 2006’s gorgeous The Boxing Mirror is a touching tribute to his mother), and space on his 1996 album With These Hands was actually dedicated to the emotions felt in family separation and the trials and tribulations his family faced throughout the generations.

Alejandro would go on to explore this more in depth with 2002’s fantastic musical By the Hand of the Father, but the ironical bit about the 1996 album is that its recording brought about a major family reunion, albeit unexpectedly.

Here’s an excerpt from famed Austin DJ Jody Denberg’s liner notes for With These Hands:

Some confusion is understandable when you consider that two of Alejandro’s brothers — Coke and Pete Escovedo — had played percussion with Santana, and his niece is equally rhythmic Sheila E. Oddly enough it wasn’t until this album and a chance meeting that Al’s family and its renown musical heritage had ever directly figured into his own. While Alejandro casually sat in an L.A. recording studio changing his guitar strings before a session, an engineer asked his last name — and then told him that one Pete Escovedo was recording upstairs.

Alejandro and his producer invited Pete to play on what would become the album’s title track, and Pete and his congas were joined by other beat-ready Escovedos; Sheila E. on timbales (“She brought a semi in!” Al laughingly remembers), Peter Michael on bongos, Juan on Cajon and Juanita on shakers — all on a song written about Pete and Al’s father Pedro’s journey across the border to America.

Here’s just some of the Escovedo clan ripping it up for you on said track, and here’s to family and togetherness on Cinco de Mayo.

Alejandro Escovedo – With These Hands

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