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Alejandro Escovedo strings crowd along quite well

Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, December 7, 2006

Reviewed by Jeffrey B. Remz

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Alejandro Escovedo is not afraid of taking on different musical personas. He's been punk, roots rocker, honky tonker, rocker and now he's doing something completely different - the Alejandro Escovedo String Quartet.

And lest anyone think the well-respected musician has gone soft, far far from it. Instead with the use of twin cellos, fiddle and acoustic guitar - plus himself on acoustic - Escovedo and company made for one fine outing in a completely different environment - an art museum.

How Escovedo came up with his latest formula was never made clear during the 90-minute show, but no matter. First of all, Escovedo sings really well, serving notice that whether the music was softer or louder didn't affect his intensity in wringing the meaning out of the lyrics.

Another huge plus was that Escovedo is a fine storyteller in introducing the songs, which he did often whether telling the story of his late father, who died at 97, in California, or a next door neighbor from Austin who played in a band for beer and women, but little money ("Five Hearts Breaking").

In his easy going delivery, description also made the songs seem larger.

Escovedo even played one brand new song written earlier in the week with current songwriting buddy Chuck Prophet and still untitled to fine effect. The band didn't miss a beat either.

The musical configuration proved that going with an understandably odd grouping let Escovedo do more vocally and probably musically.

The cellos from Matt Fish and Brian Standefer were a dynamic force throughout. Fiddle player Susan Voelz added a lot of spice as well and along with David Pulkingham on acoustic helped with occasional backing vocals.

On paper, the concept of the Alejandro Escovedo String Quartet would leave a lot of head scratching. Ah reality, what a concept.

Sarah Borges, a Boston-based rootsy artist, opened with a solid set with a fellow guitarist accompanying her. Borges has a full-bodied voice and sufficient stage presence to make for an enjoyable outing.