The track listing for Alejandro Escovedo’s new studio album, Bourbonitis Blues (Bloodshot), his first in three years, makes it doubly clear that the Austin singer-songwriter isn’t exactly in a prolific phase. Of the nine cuts, only four are originals, and one of those, “Guilty,” appeared in a different version on With These Hands (Rykodisc) in 1996. But while his songwriting muse might be slumbering, his music is anything but tired. In the liner notes to Bourbonitis Blues, Escovedo thanks Bloodshot “for making music fun again,” and the record sounds like he means it. A cult favorite since 1983, when he cofounded the True Believers, Escovedo seemed on the brink of mainstream success in ’96. Glowing reviews didn’t translate into big sales for With These Hands, however, and he parted ways with Rykodisc after a disagreement about what to do with the follow-up. Now, instead of making a grand statement, Escovedo has focused on capturing his live sound–the very magic that won him his hard-core fans in the first place. Four tracks were recorded at FitzGerald’s in Berwyn, albeit without an audience. On rootsy originals like “I Was Drunk” and “Guilty” Escovedo balances his punk leanings with his poetic side, bringing a boiling intensity to the lean string arrangements and a masterfully contained torpor to his soulful vocals–although he can still pull out the stops, as on the seething, Stooges-esque “Everybody Loves Me.” His winning personality is splattered all over the slew of covers, too: his tenderness graces Ian Hunter’s “Irene Wilde” and his raucous guitar stylings distinguish a version of the Jimmie Rodgers classic “California Blues,” sung with typical gusto by guest vocalist Jon Langford. But the real killer is his distended, appropriately strung out take on “Sex Beat,” the Gun Club’s meditation on nihilistic sexual hedonism. Still, as close as the record comes to capturing Escovedo live, the real thing is indisputably better. If you’re reading this on Thursday, April 22, you can catch him (with opener Sally Timms) at 8:30 tonight at FitzGerald’s, 6615 Roosevelt, Berwyn; 708-788-2118. He also plays Friday at 10 PM at Schubas, 3159 N. Southport; 773-525-2508.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Todd V. Wolfson.