Alejandro Escovedo, St James's, Piccadilly<img src="" height="1" width="1"/><img src="" height="10" width="47"/>

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The Independent Culture

A rarely used jewel in the crown of London's gig circuit, St James's Church provides a singular context. The audience sit on pews under high ceilings, daylight reflects through the stained glass, and the prayers of ages hang in the air.

Escovedo, one of the great undersung princes of Native American music, sits on a low stage in front of the altar, cradling a guitar. Now 55, he looks strong and focused after a recent near-fatal attack of hepatitis C. In a smart grey suit and brilliant white shirt, the Tex-Mex (or Mex-Tex) master of many genres is tonight in the middle of his acoustic chamber ensemble. The set-up allows great musical scope - from the cojunto and mariachi plaints of his Mayan forefathers to the drone-rock repetition of The Stooges and The Velvet Underground - and Escovedo moves smoothly between styles.

The folk-laced interplay leads to many explosive crescendos as the musicians tear into the songs, exposing their tender and lovelorn visions. The force that attracted the Velvets' founder member John Cale to produce Escovedo's elegant and brooding album The Boxing Mirror is fully apparent.

Introducing "Evita's Lullaby" from the new album, written for his mother after his father's death, Escovedo reveals the key to many lyrics. "My father was 12 when he crossed the border to find his parents in a San Antonio workcamp and became a mariachi singer, boxer, dancer and bull-hustler who had 12 children, eight of them professional musicians," he declares.

The lullaby is daringly sandwiched between twin passages aping the string-driven crescendo of The Beatles' "A Day in the Life". Then, further gilding the lovers' tale, it segues into a savage and lusty version of "I Wanna Be Your Dog".

Only just back in circulation after the revelation that it was on President Bush's iPod top 10 confined it to the vaults, the bar-band classic "I Like It Better When She Walks Away" misses the drum kick and bass throb of its electric setting.

Then, just as the dynamic range becomes samey and the format seems exhausted, comes the climactic masterstroke. Escovedo and the musicians step off the stage and gather in the round, moving slowly up and down the central aisle as they play and harmonise unamplified. It is a magical moment - the minstrel son looking well on foreign soil.