It’s no surprise that Alejandro Escovedo has friends that want to help. After all, Escovedo–who stepped to the forefront of modern songwriting with his undefinable and ecletic songwriting following stints with The Nuns, Rank and File and The True Believers–is among the most influential musicians and personalities of the last 15 years. Escovedo’s stories–chock full of big-city turmoil, laconic preponderance and emotional attachment–are those that linger with the listener long after the disc is done, taking shape as half-specific, completely poignant plots in the mind’s eye.

In April of this year, Escovedo collapsed following a show in Phoenix. He was immediately hospitalized and treated for complications arising from Hepatitis C, and he is still unable to tour or record as he recuperates at his home in Texas. And those friends–all owing a genuine debt (artistic or otherwise) to Escovedo–are indeed helping. Already, a string of some 30 benefit concerts have been held at clubs across the country. David Garza and The Gourds’ Kevin Russell were among a laundry list of performers at an Austin benefit in June, and Seattle’s Experience Music Project will host another such show in late November., a Web site formed earlier this year to help raise money to cover Escovedo’s mounting medical expenses, lists notables from former Escovedo producer Chris Stamey to Wilco frontman Jeff Tweedy as recent contributors to a newly established trust fund.

One of the largest and most notable events in the campiagn for Escovedo, though, will be held at The Retail Bar in Raleigh on Nov. 23. Bands 6 String Drag and The Backsliders will reunite for the occasion, and Thad Cockrell, Superchunk, The Bleeding Hearts, Two Dollar Pistols, Patty Hurst Shifter, Hooverville, Goner, Glory Fountain and a string of others are among the other locals also confirmed for the daylong event. Chip Robinson–who just finished some promising demos with Rob Farris–will also be on hand. Chatham County Line is expected to be added to the bill.

Among those living outside of the Triangle and playing the benefit is Patterson Hood of the Drive-by Truckers. Hood is hoping to release a solo album of songs written during the making of “Southern Rock Opera” early in 2004, followed by the recording of an additional album of already-penned solo work later next year.

“Playing by myself just gives me the chance to open up the song’s a little bit more than usual and to really work for that songwriting, storytelling thing,” Hood told The Independent while in the studio working on the next Truckers’ record, aimed for a mid-2004 release. “And Alejandro is just such a nice guy …the thought of him or anybody in this kind of situation really does suck.”

Though Caitlin Cary (who played on Escovedo’s 2001 A Man Under the Influence along with Ryan Adams, Superchunk’s Jon Wurster, Glory Fountain’s Lynn Blakey and Chip Robinson) helped to organize the event with Van Alston, she will not be playing, as she will be finishing a European tour the same day. Forget all of the rumors you have heard about Adams’ return to Raleigh for the event. Adams is scheduled to play the Elysee Montmatre in Paris on Nov. 22 and The Academy in Manchester two days later. He may be big, but that’s a terribly steep plane ticket.

Doors are set to open at 12:30 p.m., and advance tickets may be purchased at Raleigh Record Exchange Locations for $18. Get them and get there early.

‘Round The Town
Although Raleigh’s boogie-worthy jazz band The Countdown Quartet recently gave up their spot as The Pour House’s weekly house act, Dave Wright & Co. don’t seem to be hurting for gigs. The Quartet–actually a quintet of three horn men and a Steve Grothmann/Daniel Hall rhythm section–just came off of four gigs in a row , beginning last Thursday at The Two T’s on Hargett Street and ending with a Sunday night stop at Sadlack’s. There has been speculation that the T’s show could become a weekly thing for the band, but Wright insists that nothing has been finalized yet. Wright–known for his trombone chops with the outfit–tries his hand at solo piano with an early set at The Cave for the second time in two weeks on Wednesday night. Expect to hear “Maple Leaf Rag” and a host of other favorites from Patsy Cline to Ray Charles.

Speaking of the Countdown, Peter Lamb, the band’s young tenor and soprano sax man, blows for one track–along with Jimbo Mathus–on Do You Swing?, the latest Yep Roc Records release from veteran garage-rock revivalists The Fleshtones.

After some 15 years at 2316 Hillsborough Street in Raleigh, Schoolkids Records has finally moved. Hints concerning a possible Schoolkids’ relocation have been circulating in town since early this year, and, according to a January interview with owner Mike Phillips, prospective spots included Cameron Village and Mission Valley. The new store–now located at 2712 Hillsborough Street–is 800 square feet larger than its predecessor for significantly less money and has access to much more customer parking.

“People living off-campus really couldn’t shop with us because there wasn’t nor has there ever been any parking at the old store. But, with this one, we’ll have at least 7 or 8 dedicated spots for customers,” Phillips told The Independent.

WBBB 96.1 will host another free show at The Lincoln Theatre on Nov. 11. Hoobastank, a band that can only be liked by fans of their too-close-for-comfort kindred spirits in Incubus, will be on hand, along with original gorilla Andrew W.K. Die Trying–another trite band on another major label–opens.

Steven Paul (Elliott) Smith

August 6, 1969-October 21, 2003
Steven Paul Smith, one of the more influential singer-songwriters of the past decade, was found dead in his Los Angeles apartment last Tuesday by his girlfriend after an apparent suicide. He was 34.

A native of Omaha, Neb., Smith began composing at the age of 10 while living with his mother in Dallas. A ridiculed student, he would change his name to the more serious “Elliott” before moving to Portland, Ore. as a high school sophomore to live with his father, a psychiatrist. He formed his first band in a Portland high school, followed by more acts as a student at Hampshire College in Amherst, Mass. He joined the band Heatmiser upon returning to Portland and began releasing his own efforts in 1994.

Following the release of his third solo outing Either/Or in 1997 and a move to New York City the same year, filmmaker Gus Van Zandt to used several of his tracks for the film Good Will Hunting. The movie brought Smith increased notoriety, an Oscar nomination and a major-label deal with Dreamworks Records. For his subsequent two releases, Smith at last explored fully orchestrated arrangements of his emotionally heavy work with the assistance of producer Tom Rothrock. The results–1998’s XO and 2000’s Figure 8–saw Smith playing nearly all of the instruments in his own full-band experience for songs that, in signature Smith fashion, seemed sonically upbeat but lyrically fraught with his own despair, heartache and unease. He was working on his third Dreamworks release, tentatively entitled From a Basement on the Hill, at the time of his death.

While still very much a part of his rock band Heatmiser, Smith would admit publicly that he wasn’t particularly fond of the outfit’s work, lamenting in interviews that some of his early material had been recorded prematurely, and that–as an unsure, young musician–some of it had been pasteurized and sterilized by the “machine” of the band. The emotional poignancy and delicacy Smith had hoped to affect in his material was gone, absorbed and lost in a band more concerned with rock power than his own vision of pathos-laden dynamic.

That, at least as a musician and an artist, was Elliott Smith–concerned and protective, introverted and delicate. But Smith was one of the very best. With his first three solo releases, he captivated the parcel of the music world actually paying attention with an sensitivity and depth that was astounding. Here–in sparse arrangements spun from simple acoustic guitar that edged at times on lilting, minor-key pop–was a fragile, brooding soul and voice capable of writing his life as an ultimate quest for innocence regained in a place full of people and places that would have none of it. Imagery, symbolism and storytelling met face-to-face with a sometimes childlike, always fragile voice and disposition that could terrify the jaded.

As the cover art for Figure 8 seems to say, the world was moving all around Elliott Smith. But from his tiny, crowded window, it was all he could do just to watch.EndBlock

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