I don’t really know the story behind Ride This! by Los Lobos, but I have theories. The album is a companion to The Ride, and it covers 7 songs by Tom Waits, Elvis Costello, Ruben Blades, and others. One track (Marie, Marie) is live, from 1999. The tracks are originally by artists who are either longtime partners with Los Lobos are by artists with whom they recorded songs on The Ride. My theory is that they put on the originals of these songs when they were producing the album as reference tracks and they decided they liked them so much that they recorded them and decided ‘hey, we’ve got something here…’ It’s probably not how it happened, but it could have…
Like a lot of people, I was introduced to Los Lobos through two cover projects they were involved with. The first was La Bamba where they showcased the seductive latin sounds hidden inside the 1950s rock of Richie Valens. I also liked their contribution to the Stay Awake CD, a nice cover of I Want To Be Like You from the Jungle Book.
I don’t know what Los Lobos really want to be as a band. The album isn’t just latin and it isn’t just rock and it’s not what’s traditionally thought of as “latin rock”. There are elements of all of that, but in the end, it’s almost defiantly “none of the above”. I’ve always known that Los Lobos could do excellent work with cover material, and this album is no exception. It really does a good job of showcasing the versatility of the band.
It turns out that I am unfamiliar with about half of the material Los Lobos were covering. Sure, Elvis Costello and Tom Waits and Richard Thompson were artists I knew, but I was really familiar with the Blades track, or Dave Alvin or Thee Midniters or the Bobby Womack cover. That’s not bad. I like discovering new things. It just makes it hard to do the expected cover/original comparison. I’m not sorry about that. It lets me treat the songs as themselves, which fits for a “none of the above” band.
Rubén Blades Patria is a very pretty norteño-sounding track that reminds me of the kind of music I’d hear on the radio poking around Austin or San Antonio and a quiet political statement about the nature of one’s “Homeland”. It manages to clearly and concisely distinguish between “love of one’s country” and “jingoism” and it does so with images and stories rather than bombast. It’s a “show, don’t tell” message that’s well done, and well performed.
It’ll Never Be Over For Me, is a lush song. It evokes a smoky jazz bar and a velvety voiced singer describing the kind of tenaciousness in a relationship that commonly earns someone a restraining order and a reputation for creepiness. It’s smooth and entertaining and straight in the middle of the tradition of “love songs it’s best not to think about the words of”. Thee Midniters are like a 1960s version of Los Lobos, so it’s a natural choice.
It’s hard to pick a stand-out on this album, I like all the songs. I think the live version of Marie, Marie may be my personal choice. It’s a straight-up rocker that is reminiscent of B.B. King or Chuck Berry. It has the live energy that I’ve come to expect from hybrid acts. It sounds fun. It doesn’t have to be complicated to make my sing along. And that’s what I’m looking for.