Disconnected, An Acoustic Evening with Los Lobos - 12/21
at City Winery New York City
Los Lobos still are:
Louie Perez- Drums, Guitars, Percussion, Vocals
Steve Berlin- Saxophone, Percussion, Flute, Midsax, Harmonica, Melodica
Cesar Rosas- Vocals, Guitar, Mandolin
Conrad Lozano- Bass, Guitarron, Vocals
David Hidalgo- Vocals, Guitar, Accordion, Percussion, Bass, Keyboards, Melodica, Drums, Violin, Banjo
Enrique "Bugs" Gonzalez - Drums/Percussion
More than three decades have passed since Los Lobos released their debut album, Just Another Band from East L.A. Since then they’ve repeatedly disproven that title—Los Lobos isn’t “just another” anything, but rather a band that has consistently evolved artistically while never losing sight of their humble roots.
For Tin Can Trust—Los Lobos’ first release for Shout! Factory (due August 3) and first collection of new original material in four years—the venerable quintet reconnected directly with those roots by returning to East L.A. and recording at Manny’s Estudio, “in a rundown neighborhood,” says Los Lobos songwriter/multi-instrumentalist Louie Pérez. “That took us out of our comfort zone and allowed us to do what we hadn’t done in quite some time: to play together in the same room, as one. This was not about putting your feet up; this was about working.”
“This was a no-frills studio,” adds David Hidalgo (guitar, violin, accordion, percussion, vocals). “We didn’t even have a couch to sit on; we had to bring one in.”
“It felt more like a group effort,” agrees bassist/vocalist Conrad Lozano. “We went into the studio with no ideas and worked some out. Before, everybody would come in with a finished product.”
A rare example of longevity in a volatile music world that stresses style over substance, Los Lobos’ lineup has remained uninterrupted since 1984, when saxophonist/keyboardist Steve Berlin joined original members Pérez, Hidalgo, Rosas and Lozano, each of whom had been there since the beginning in 1973.
Tin Can Trust, like so much of Los Lobos’ previous work, is an album that speaks to the time and place in which it was conceived. But it wasn’t until the songwriting and recording process was well under way that it occurred to the band that an underlying theme was trying to make itself heard. The phrase that ultimately became the album’s title can be traced back more than a century, but for the band it’s apt for the rickety state in which so many of us find ourselves—and our world—today.
A number of tracks on Tin Can Trust are Hidalgo-Pérez collaborations, including the album’s opener “I’ll Burn It Down,” with blues-rocker Susan Tedeschi offering a guest vocal harmony, and “Jupiter Or the Moon” – both of which feature Lozano on the upright acoustic bass. Hidalgo and Pérez are also behind “Lady and the Rose,” which Berlin calls “incredible, one of my favorite songs on the record, with great lyrics”; the dance instrumental “Do the Murray,” whose curious title is a tribute to Hidalgo’s recently deceased dog; and the album-closing “Twenty Seven Spanishes,” which attempts to encapsulate in one song nothing less than the entire tale of the Spanish conquest of Mexico, “blow by blow,” as Pérez says.
It was during their earliest years that the particular hybrid of traditional regional Mexican folk music, rock and roll, blues, R&B, country and other genres began finding a sweet spot in the music of Los Lobos. “In 1973, when we first formed,” says Pérez, “we were four guys from East L.A. who were friends from high school who played in local rock bands. Then once we got out of high school you still had four guys who were just hanging out together. So the natural progression of things is to just start playing music again. You’d think that we’d form a rock band but then out of nowhere somebody got this idea of ‘Let’s learn a Mexican song to play for somebody’s mom for their birthday’ or something. Mexican music was largely just wallpaper for us—it was always in the background, and we never paid much attention to it. We were modern kids who listened to rock and roll. Then when we finally dug up some old records to learn a couple of songs, that was a real revelation to us that this music is actually very complicated and challenging. So at that point we were off and running.”
One of the most momentous events in Los Lobos’ history arrived in 1987, when the band was tapped to cover “La Bamba,” the Mexican folk standard that had been transformed into a rock and roll classic in 1958 when it was recorded by the ill-fated 17-year-old Ritchie Valens. Valens, the first Chicano rock star, was catapulted to legendary status the following year when he died in a plane crash along with Buddy Holly and the Big Bopper and it was a natural choice that Los Lobos be asked to remake his signature hit for the forthcoming biopic of the same name. Little did anyone suspect that the remake would spring to number one on the charts!
“We had met Ritchie’s family and they had asked for us,” says Pérez. “Of course, our emphasis at that time was on making our next album, By the Light of the Moon. Then ‘La Bamba’ came out and when the other record came out a few months later it was, By the Light of the Moon, what’s that? It was completely pre-empted by this massive hit. We had no idea what was going to happen.”
What happened was that Los Lobos was now reaching a vastly larger audience. “We were opening up for bands like U2 and the Clash and traveling around the world,” says Lozano. “You’d walk into an airplane and some little kid would be singing ‘La Bamba.’ It was a great time.”
Since then, on equally stunning albums such as 1996’s Colossal Head, 2002’s Good Morning Aztlán and 2006’s The Town and the City, Los Lobos has continued to deliver dependably solid and diverse recordings, a live show that never fails to disappoint, and just enough side trips—a Disney tribute album and a couple of live ones, solo and duet recordings (among them Hidalgo and Pérez’s ’90s diversion Latin Playboys), Berlin’s many production and sideman gigs—to keep their creative juices flowing. Tin Can Trust pushes Los Lobos ahead a few more notches while retaining everything the band’s loyal fans have come to expect.