When he started coughing up blood, Alejandro Escovedo realized another drink might do him in. Three (presumably sober) years later, Austin's prodigal son delivers The Boxing Mirror, a hallucinatory account of his near-fatal battle with abstinence and Hep C. What better for his underappreciated career as the Great Brown Hope of alt-country/rock/punk than a brush with mortality. Like Tom Waits with Kathleen Brennan, Escovedo mines poetry by his wife, Kim Christoff, on aces "Dear Head on the Wall" and "Notes on Air": One's an avant-garde arrangement with sinister string section, while the other's a lap-steel rocker whose rallying cry, "Because you made a truce of rubber," is the new "Told you so." Subtract these and opener "Arizona," in which addiction is described as "one kiss just led to another," and Los Lobos could've made this album if they, too, got John Cale to produce. That's a compliment to all involved.