by Alan Sculley & r & & r & & lt;span class= & quot;dropcap & quot; & A & lt;/span & lejandro Escovedo isn't supposed to be sitting on a park bench and smiling. On this sunny spring afternoon in his hometown of Austin, Texas, he isn't supposed to have a new album to discuss with reporters, much less be doing shows like the one that floored an invitation-only audience just a few hours earlier.
The gifted singer-songwriter wasn't supposed to live to see a day when he could talk up a new album. But Escovedo's story these days is all about recovery, renewal and triumph. He has overcome the debilitating effects of Hepatitis C, a disease that at first left him in a hospital bed with internal bleeding, advanced cirrhosis of the liver, damage to his esophagus and a grim prognosis.
The doctors "really didn't talk about recovery," Escovedo says. "It wasn't about me ever being whole again. It was about me having either a liver transplant or a shunt put into my system."
His ordeal began in 1996, when he was first diagnosed. After recovering some and then researching the disease, Escovedo thought he could manage the illness by cutting back on drinking and eating more healthily. It didn't work. In 2002, Escovedo fell seriously ill and was rushed to the emergency room. For the next three years, his recovery proved to be as trying and debilitating as the disease itself. He went on a regimen of interferon and ribavirin, drugs designed to stop the attack of Hep C on the liver.
The drugs sapped Escovedo of his energy and strength and robbed him of muscle mass to the point where he could barely get out of bed, much less lead anything resembling a normal life. Worried that he was fighting a losing battle, Escovedo tried a holistic treatment approach involving Eastern medicine, acupuncture and massage therapy.
The new approach gradually helped. By the fall of 2005, plans were in place to record The Boxing Mirror, with former Velvet Underground member John Cale producing. Not surprisingly, Mirror has several songs whose vivid lyrics relate directly to Escovedo's ordeal -- most obviously, "Died A Little Today," a lovely ballad that focuses on how a near-death experience can inspire one toward a better life.
But The Boxing Mirror also includes more light-hearted tunes as well, including "Looking for Love" (about how love can come out of nowhere) and "Take Your Place" (a lost-love song with a biting but playful edge).
The blend of stylistic elements will be familiar to Escovedo fans, but Mirror consolidates his strengths and brings a new level of cohesion to his musical range: "I think I made a record in which all the different things that I do are more in focus. By working with John Cale," says Escovedo, "we were able to really kind of go in and just render all the fat away completely and get to the core."
Alejandro Escovedo plays Pig Out in the Park on Sunday, Sept. 3, at 8 pm. Free. Visit www.spokanepigout.com.