A few years ago, beset by everything from the demise of his band the True Believers in a haze of drugs and acrimony to the suicide of his estranged wife, Alejandro Escovedo was unquestionably at a personal and professional nadir. Since then he's slowly emerged from the gloom. At this year's SXSW festival, he was everywhere: doing a powerful reunion show with the True Believers, another for-fun gig with an Austin all-star band, the Setters, and several solo appearances as well, culminating in his annual closing night blowout with the grand Alejandro Escovedo Orchestra. Where once this aggregation--complete with string section, horns, and background singers--did its show in a corner of a restaurant, it now awes a standing crowd of more than 2,000. Seeing the True Believers makes you understand why even jaded Austinites matter-of-factly describe them as one of the greatest live bands in the history of the world; and on Escovedo's most recent album, Thirteen Years, you can see why he still commands respect and awe: the record is a deeply personal and uncompromising exposition of musical ambitions and personal demons all set to a redolent mixture of courtly drawing-room rock, with deep and saturated roots in blues and country. He's not perfect: you wish someone would de-cliche a lot of his lyrics, for example. But even this fault doesn't detract from his real achievements: songs like "Baby's Got New Plans," an elegant, vivid breakup tale; or "Thirteen Years," a suicide note from an estranged wife. His two shows this weekend will see him playing with his most ambitious touring band yet, six pieces that include the expressive violin of Susan Voelz. Friday, 10 PM, Schubas, 3159 N. Southport; 525- 2508. Saturday, 10 PM, FitzGerald's, 6615 Roosevelt, Berwyn; 708-788-2118.