Los Lobos are still as good as ever, hitting us with thirteen tracks on their killer, thirteenth full-length album, The Town And The City. The band expands their roots-rock sound by adding darker tones and themes. Where Kiko has a psychedelic dream vibe to it, The Town And The City has more of an experimental blues feel, which allows them to still hit hard and rock as they have done in the past.
The Town And The City opens with the dark, mellow blues of “The Valley” and “Hold On”. Both have solid drums and percussion and are filled with light guitar picking (both acoustic and electric) and background sounds that help to set the mood. The lyrics here are also linked in their solemn tone and by David Hidalgo’s easygoing and mournful yet passionate vocals. “Hold On” describes how, in a sunrise, things can change and how easy it can be to slip into a world of abuse, be it self or substance. I dig this moody number with its tribal drums and chorus of “killing myself to survive”. It hits the working man hard, making you reflect on why and how you can get up every morning to continue doing what you think is right.
With the third track, “The Road to Gila Bend”, things start to jump and the band kicks into the house rockers that they are; the drums thump, the bass is solid, and the guitar soars. Hidalgo’s vocals pick up a bit as well, as they always do on such songs. The lyrics are about the twist and turns on life’s road — how it seems there is no end and no place to lay one’s head.
“Chuco’s Cumbia” is the first of three songs in Spanish, each with a different feel and vibe. Cesar Rosas delivers it with authenticity in Pachuco Calo, a Spanish-English slang developed by zoot-suited Mexican-American hepsters in the 1930s and ‘40s. The song reflects the title, a danceable cumbia beat filled with swinging horns and Rosas’ vocal pep. “Luna” is the band’s take on the traditional sounds of Mexico, pushing it into something all their own, twisting the acoustic guitar and bass just far enough to keep a psychedelic feel to the song. “No Puedo Mas” is a song where you can hear some of Los Lobos’ “Eastside sound” influences, from such local bands as Malo and El Chicano. Heavy organ, hard-edged electric guitars, funky bass lines, and Rosas’ Chicano soul vocals fuel the track.
Two standout tracks are “If You Were Only Here Tonight” and “Two Dogs And One Bone”. “If You Were Only Here” is a slow blues number driven by Hidalgo’s sorrowful vocals about the absence of someone special, even just the sound of their voice, and how that could keep you from doing something you might regret. The powerful lyrics of the night slowly becoming another day have this one hitting home for me: “what am I to do/ when the clock says half past two/ do I stare out in the dark/ or try to look for you” and “wouldn’t have did what I have done/ if you were only here tonight”. On the opposite end of the ladder is “Two Dogs”, a jump tune where the power comes through its music rather than its words, reeling and rocking the blues away.
“The City” and “The Town”, the dual title tracks, are excellent numbers that explore the themes, feel, and difference of those locales. “The City” is a study of the calling of the neon nightlife and the vices it offers. A very lively yet dark tune, propelled forward and downward by heavy organ and plunking piano, in the middle of the track there is an odd sound as if a dog's barking. It captures the scene of a late night out perfectly, how it can spiral out of control into the break of day. “The Town” is a reminiscence of the place of one’s youth and how that place in time can seem more innocent and somewhere that your heart truly resides, a place where all your friends and family are together, at least in dreams.
The rest of the album rounds out with three very 1960s soul-inspired tunes, “Little Things”, “Don’t Ask Why”, and “Free Up”. These songs are very much in the vein of soul legends Solomon Burke and Otis Redding as well as local Chicano heroes Thee Midniters and Little Ray. Los Lobos’ soulful influences shine on this CD and they twist it just far enough to make it all their own — just as they have done with everything else they’ve previously recorded.
So what does the new Los Lobos CD say to me? It screams that after all these years, David Hidalgo, Cesar Rosas, Conrad Lozano, Louie Perez, and Steve Berlin have stuck together to create the music they want and love. They have formed a brotherhood and are strong enough and talented enough to keep turning out solid, thought-provoking albums capable of reflecting the world around you as well as the one inside you. That this band can go through these ups and downs and still lean on each other as friends, as well as a musical unit, is something we can all learn from. Friends, like true talent and really good albums, are hard to come by, so appreciate what you have. As for Los Lobos, here’s to lucky number thirteen and may you provide us with many more as the years roll on!
So yeah, run out and grab this one. Go now! Come prepared, bring something with you and take something as you go. I’m sure the band wouldn’t have it any other way.
Written by Fantasma el Rey