Alejandro Escovedo is the definition of a songwriter’s songwriter. While his own career has been a modest success, the biggest names in music adore the guy’s work. Bruce Springsteen calls him up at his own shows, and has appeared on Escovedo’s recordings. Ryan Adams and Whiskeytown featured him as a vocalist on several songs during the band’s active years. REM lead guitarist Peter Buck is a frequent tour-mate—and he’s also the co-writer and co-producer of Escovedo’s new album, Burn Something Beautiful, which is out October 28.

Escovedo and Buck were joined on the writing front by indie rock hero Scott McCaughey, and the three had a deep collaborative process when writing songs on the album. “It would usually start with an idea one of us had, and then by going back and forth together, we’d work on the melodies, verses, and choruses in a wide-open way, until we all felt the song was the best it could be,” Escovedo says. “On some songs one person would contribute a majority, and then with the others’ input, it was like a total melding of the minds all at once. I’ve never been involved in anything like it.”

The result is a thirteen-track album that—if the new track “Heartbeat Smile” is any indication—recalls both vintage Escovedo and the pop-rock sensibilities of his collaborators. But within the jangly guitar, upbeat backing vocals, and big pop hooks there are heavy themes that the 65-year-old rocker confronts throughout Burn Something Beautiful. “There really wasn’t a theme to the album when we started, but as the songs came together, it took one on. It was amazing to watch as it happened,” Escovedo says. “It felt like all three of us were addressing the idea of mortality, and how music and books and movies and art and all the things we love helped us find our place in the world. Even with all the loss we’ve experienced, it’s like each of us also found a strength and beauty in that, as well.”

“Heartbeat Smile” certainly touches on all of that, but as Escovedo sings about lost friends and found hopes, he also serves up a joyful reminder of good times—even if they’re laced with an air of melancholy. It’s the sort of song that made Escovedo a songwriter’s songwriter in the first place. Listen to it below:

(Check out Alejandro Escovedo’s tour dates here.)