By Bill Friskics-Warren
Los Lobos's first album of new material in four years marks a return to the group's rough-and-ready roots. Recorded in a small studio in a rundown section of Los Angeles, the music is lean and gutbucket, much as it was some 30 years ago when, as the title of the group's 1978 LP put it, it was "just another band from East L.A." Latin accents abound, especially on the set-closing "Twenty-Seven Spanishes," a mythopoeic account of Spain's conquest of Mexico, but also on the tradition-steeped "Yo Canto," a cumbia, and "Mujer Ingrata," a norteno.
The lyrics tend to be more impressionistic than narrative, and typically concerned with hard-pressed but resilient men and women scuffling on society's margins. "Trying hard to believe there's something more than me / Something outside myself that wants me to be free," sings César Rosas, echoed by mournful organ and guitar fills, in "All My Bridges Burning," a searching ballad written with Grateful Dead lyricist Robert Hunter. The album also includes a bluesy cover of the Dead's "West L.A. Fadeaway" featuring tortuous guitar solos and noirish overtones.
Much of the music here is blues-based, from the rumbling upright bass of "I'll Burn It Down" (with Susan Tedeschi on background vocals) to the roiling undertow of "On Main Street," the latter reminiscent of Cream's arrangement of Albert King's "Born Under a Bad Sign." The playing is intuitive and fluid throughout, revealing just the sort of command that comes when a group of committed musicians have been anticipating one another's moves for decades.
Recommended tracks: "Yo Canto," "On Main Street," "Twenty-Seven Spanishes"
Los Lobos is scheduled to perform at the Birchmere on Sunday.