Touring in support of their latest album, "Tin Can Trust," Los Lobos has been riding a wave of renewed appreciation as one of America's most talented, original rock groups.
The UK music magazine Uncut raved: "'Tin Can Trust' is a masterful album from an undeniably great American band, at the peak of its considerable powers." As though to prove the point, the album was just nominated for a Grammy in the Americana category.
"Trust shows that for a band going into its fourth decade, Los Lobos haven't lost any fire," praised PopMatters, and an Associated Press review concluded: "Los Lobos has had the same lineup for 36 years, and yet there remains a vitality and freshness to the music that younger acts will never match."
DREW REYNOLDS photo
Initially building their reputation blending rock and blues with a passion for Mexican folk music, this Grammy- winning, East Los Angeles-based band has forged a unique sound discarding traditional boundaries to often create brilliant, daring music.
Often lauded, a profile in Stereophile magazine proclaimed, "Los Lobos is unquestionably America's best folk/rock/pop band. No other group has their range, their talent, their fire." And Vintage Guitar magazine hailed them as "America's most important band."
The band's first collection of new material in four years, "Tin Can Trust" opens with the ferocious "Burn it Down" and closes with the stunning "27 Spanishes," which recounts Spain's conquest of Mexico. In between, they draw on their Hispanic heritage with some cumbia and norteno tunes, pay tribute to the Grateful Dead with a gritty cover of "West L.A. Fadeaway," and team with Dead lyricist Robert Hunter for "All My Bridges Burning."
* Los Lobos - Louie Perez (from left), David Hidalgo, Cesar Rosas, Conrad Lozano and Steve Berlin - plays at 7:30 p.m. Friday in Maui Arts & Cultural Center's Castle Theater Tickets are $45, $50 and $55 (plus applicable fees), available from the MACC box office, 242-7469 or www.mauiarts.org.
"We find the most pleasure in mixing things up, throwing it all in a pot and seeing what happens," says the band's saxophonist/keyboardist Steve Berlin about their diverse sound. "We've found the most exciting part of the process was combining things together and I think that's how we've stayed at it this long. It keeps us making interesting records. We have a very limitless musical palette. Everyone is willing to try anything out if they think it might work."
In June, legendary Led Zeppelin singer Robert Plant joined Los Lobos on stage at a Taste of Chicago show. A longtime fan of the band, Plant recorded a great cover of their classic song "Angel Dance" on his new "Band of Joy" album, released in September. And Los Lobos' Louie Perez and David Hidalgo appeared with Plant in a video for the song.
A month earlier, jazz legend Herbie Hancock released the remarkable CD, "The Imagine Project," which featured a host of collaborations with the likes of Jeff Beck, Seal, Dave Mathews and India.Arie, and an amazing teaming of Los Lobos with Saharan Touareg group Tinariwen on Bob Marley's "Exodus."
The core of Los Lobos - Louie Perez (guitar, drums, vocals), David Hidalgo (guitar, violin, accordion, percussion, vocals), Cesar Rosas (guitar, vocals) and Conrad Lozano (bass, vocals) - has been playing together since 1973, with Steve Berlin joining in 1984.
Formed in East Los Angeles, Los Lobos developed a cult following fusing traditional Mexican folkloric influences with rock 'n' roll. The band's debut EP recording, "And A Time To Dance," earned it a Grammy for best Mexican-American performance.
Their first album, "How Will The Wolf Survive?," hinted at their eclectic potential, displaying influences ranging from folk and jazz through Tex-Mex to '50s rock.
Named the Band of the Year in 1984 by Rolling Stone, three years later it was catapulted to mainstream success with its cover of Richie Valens' "La Bamba." Not wanting to be perceived as a retro-rock outfit, they promptly released "La Pistola Y El Corazon," a Grammy-winning, all-acoustic recording of traditional Mexican songs.
Defying trends, Los Lobos next produced "The Neighborhood." One of the best albums of 1990, it showcased this powerhouse blasting through a stunning melange of gritty rock n' roll, growling blues boogie, soulful folk and searing ballads. It was a seminal work that elevated them into the pantheon of such artful American chroniclers as The Band and Neil Young.
They shattered the mold again with "Kiko," an abstract, experimental work hailed by many critics as a crowning achievement. Then came "Colossal Head," a hallucinogenic hybrid of deconstructed rock, funk, Latin fire, and murky blues shuffles.
" 'Kiko' and 'Colossal Head' were done purposefully combining low and hi-fi, consciously trying to torture sounds and combine them with beautiful sounds," Berlin notes. "We spent 10 years doing that and then we felt, let's go back to song craft and great performances and be more realistic, not quite so impressionistic."
To mark their 30th anniversary, in 2004 Los Lobos invited a few peers and idols to join them in the studio for "The Ride." This exceptional recording combined new material mixed with updated versions of older songs sung by guests including soul legend Bobby Womack, gospel great Mavis Staples, Elvis Costello, Richard Thompson, Ruben Blades and Tom Waitts.
"We didn't want to do a record of all collaborations and guest stars, we wanted to make a new record, so we hit on the idea of half collaborations and half not," says Berlin. "We started with a list of people and we thought about what each of them meant to us and how they had affected our career. It took a while to realize that the people we had invited had done stuff like ourselves. As an R&B artist Bobby Womack elevated the form enormously and was one of the most literate R&B songwriters, and Richard Thompson had taken the English song form and turned it into rock 'n' roll."
Beside their impressive album catalogue, the band has contributed to a number of movie soundtracks including "Desperado," "Feeling Minnesota," "The Mambo Kings," "El Mariachi," and Bob Dylan's "Masked and Anonymous." Band side projects range from backing Paul Simon on "Graceland," to recording songs for Grateful Dead, Richard Thompson and Doug Sahm tribute albums.
Live, Los Lobos is unmatched. "The grizzled Chicano outfit had no trouble displaying its often awesome musical versatility and strength," praised a Los Angeles Times review. A live DVD/CD, recorded in 2004 at San Francisco's Fillmore Auditorium, captured their electrifying show - "They've become one of the hottest live acts on the planet," noted the BBC.
"It's everything I hoped a live Lobos show would be," says Berlin. "We dug up some songs we hadn't played in years and we only did them that night."
And to keep things fresh for both artists and audience, in concert Los Lobos typically never repeats the same set.
"We try very hard not to repeat ourselves," he concludes. "I think it's incumbent on us to not give people the same show twice."