Touted as a career retrospective, Real Animal becomes so much more in the able hands of Alejandro Escovedo. Instead of compiling token tunes from his past work, he chose to write (with Chuck Prophet collaborating) a cycle of new songs, each encapsulating a moment in time from Escovedo's varied musical journey. That's bold and scary at the same time, but if anyone can do it right, Escovedo can. From the roots of punk through the glam and twang, he tells a musical tale of unmatched exploration and discovery. Perhaps facing one's own mortality brings a new clarity to the past, and capturing those moments in a manner that both honors the good times and acknowledges the bad takes honesty and vision. An open and literal songwriter, Escovedo manages to look backward while moving forward on this opus. The sincerity is intact, the music both rocks and reassures, and the future sounds as good as the past. 5 stars.