Leave it to Alejandro Escovedo: Even while keeping a low recording profile, he still improves by leaps and bounds. When No Depression dubbed him Artist Of The Decade, the magazine wasn't just considering his recent output (a live disc, More Miles Than Money, and a stopgap EP, Bourbonitis Blues), but tallying up those releases as the latest entries in a career that counters the law of diminishing returns. Escovedo was a member of The Nuns, one of San Francisco's first punk bands and the opening act at The Sex Pistols' ill-fated final show. He'd also been soaking in the country-rock of Gram Parsons, and when he next emerged with Rank And File and True Believers, he helped form bridges between roots-rock and the incipient alt-country movement. But Escovedo truly bloomed as a songwriter when he went solo. Haunting, elegiac albums like Gravity and Thirteen Years showed a side of Escovedo's music filled with grace and poetry. On A Man Under The Influence, Escovedo's fourth full-length studio album and first in five years, all the elements that made his music special—the balance of epic personal ballads and all-out rock, the gorgeous orchestrations—are firmly in place. In fact, the disc could be Escovedo's best yet, not a bad achievement for a 50-year-old veteran who still regularly closes his sets with a stinging rendition of The Stooges' "I Wanna Be Your Dog." The disc opens with the spare, spectral "Wave," documenting his Mexican father's bittersweet arrival in America. Producer Chris Stamey slowly boosts the song's intensity, helping transform it into a veritable suite replete with chiming vibes, sweeping strings, and ultimately a somber rock roar. Escovedo maintains that mood on "Across The River," yet remains just as comfortable with "Rhapsody" and "Castanets," neither of which would sound out of place on Sticky Fingers. Beautiful country ballads ("Wedding Day," "About This Love") and mid-tempo anthems ("As I Fall," "Rosalie") provide still more proof of Escovedo's talent and ambition. Featuring no weak links and oozing with confidence—he knows when to stay subtle and let the songs sell themselves—A Man Under The Influence wrings remarkable power and emotion from deceptively simple material. He takes the familiar and makes it fresh again, seasoning his music with honesty and wrenching heartache.