Influences come in good and bad forms, and Alejandro Escovedo seems firmly in the grip of both. The songs on "A Man Under the Influence" tell of a man adrift without an emotional anchor, yet they are also among the most melodically assured works of his career. As a San Antonio-born Hispanic who came up through San Francisco's punk scene, Escovedo has taken musical paths as diverse as his background. His fusion has evolved into a distinct and seamless blend. Producer Chris Stamey exerts obvious influence here, adding an agreeable jangle and step to Escovedo's chamber pop. Still, there's something stronger at work. Irredeemable loss is not a foreign theme to Escovedo, but it haunts most every crevice of "Influence." With the exception of the ballad 'Wedding Day' and the terrific 'Castanets,' regret and a certain helplessness dominate the material. If this sounds like heavy going, it's not. Escovedo is too smart a writer for that; bitterness, anger, even recrimination are absent among these pop-fueled tunes. The sequence unfolds a slow healing process, and the affirming anthem 'Velvet Guitar' even closes with a note of hope and promise. In the end the album's catharsis is upstaged by its own musical exuberance.