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Life story of Alejandro Escovedo 

One listen to the 13 tracks of Real Animal and you get the idea the singer on the album isn't just telling you stories, but letting you share in his experiences. After all, there are plenty of them -- living at the Chelsea Hotel, witnessing the swallows of Capistrano, playing with bands when he was young and, more recently, dealing with a near-fatal battle with Hepatitis C.

Alejandro Escovedo has seen a lot in his 58 years. With the help of songwriter Chuck Prophet, he tries to give listeners a glimpse at the life he's led in that handful of decades. It's not that he hasn't written personal songs in the past, but this time around, Prophet helped him focus in on the details.

"I think Chuck has this amazing journalist's eye for detail and for being very, very ... he doesn't flutter about. He gets straight to the point," Escovedo says by phone from his home near Austin, Texas. "He helped me finish stuff because I'm a procrastinator and he wouldn't let me do that. We'd stay in the room until we had something recorded. With Chuck, he was always pushing me to tell the truth and get to the heart, soul and dirt of the matter. I love him for what he did. I feel like the combination was a really fine one."

Escovedo says he wasn't sure the album would turn out so autobiographical when they went into the studio. He also wasn't sure the pairing with Prophet, his friend, would work. "I knew he was a killer songwriter," Escovedo says. "Writing with other people is a chancy business. The chances that you're gonna get something good are slim, and the chances that you're gonna work together for a period of time are slim. We were very lucky."

The result is an album that Escovedo feels is one of his best. It's not the first one released since that near-death experience -- he released The Boxing Mirror in 2006 -- but you may think it is based on the raw emotion and him opening up to the stories of his past.

After his original diagnosis "around '96 or '97," Escovedo's battle with Hepatitis C hit its peak in 2003 when he fell critically ill before a show.

"I went through a bad period then when I was very ill, but nobody really knew what it was," he says. "The only advice I was given was to go out and live life as well as I possibly could. Time was short, basically. Then I realized that that didn't have to be the case."

Escovedo tried his best to live a healthy life, starting out as a vegan, which he says was "totally alien to me and didn't work." So, he'd have a glass of wine with dinner here and there and before he knew it, he was back in the same routine of drinking and failing to take care of himself.

"When my body absolutely couldn't take it any longer, that's when I was hospitalized," he says. "I was kind of in denial. I thought I could live through it, but that's not the case. I now believe that if you have Hepatitis C, and you drink, that you're basically killing yourself."

As musicians put together an album, 2004's Por Vida, to help him with medical bills, Escovedo says music was the last thing on his mind at that point. He was simply focused on living. However, as songs for the album came pouring in, he says listening to them gave him inspiration to play again.

"I think what it does ... you realize there's no time to waste," Escovedo says. "I think it brings everything into very sharp focus the things that are important in your life if you want to continue to do them. In my case, I realized that I had to be healthy to do them."

Escovedo says he no longer drinks, though he does tend to stay up late. He admits he's a bit of a workaholic, and there's one other vice he enjoys. "I smoke pot," he says. "I do that partly because I enjoy it very much and partly because I find it medicinal for me."

Escovedo says his current performances have turned into more of a rock show than the country-rock troubadour with an acoustic guitar that he used to be. He also points out that while the setlist focuses on the new album, they still include older ballads like "Rosalie" and "I Was Drunk."

As one of 12 children in a musical family -- for example, his cousin is drummer Sheila E. and he was in the band True Believers with his brother, Javier -- Escovedo knows music runs through his veins, yet he doesn't concern himself with being on the charts or having hits. He's content with the life he has.

"I'm very comfortable. I'm not complacent. It's easy for me to live this life," he says. "Last year, there was a lot of hoopla around the record and I did a lot of high-profile stuff. I'm not so sure I liked all of that, but it certainly was cool to do. Playing the Democratic National Convention was unbelievable. Playing with Bruce Springsteen was unbelievable. Opening up for Dave Matthews was a great experience. When you start to expect things to happen is when you lose perspective. I don't expect anything. If next year is just playing clubs, I'm OK with that. How can you complain when you're playing music for a living? When that's what you've done for as long as we've been doing this, how can anyone complain?"

Alejandro Escovedo will perform at 8 p.m. on Jan. 24 at the Neighborhood Theatre. Tickets are $20 and $35.

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