Los Lobos w/Los Lonely Boys & Alejandro Escovedo
Billboards, bus benches and fliers are the tried-and-true methods of promoting shows around town. But it’s not every lineup that merits a hand-painted mural. If you’ve driven through East Nashville’s Five Points intersection lately, then you’ve probably seen the names “Los Lobos,” “Los Lonely Boys” and “Alejandro Escovedo” emblazoned on the side of the Performing Artist Co-op building. There’s even a three-minute YouTube video documenting the painting process. It’s worth all that extra effort when three standard-bearers of left-of-center Latin rock are touring together. They’ve each got their own sounds; rootsy Austin post-punk is Escovedo’s deal; Los Lobos specialize in wickedly clever California grooves; and Los Lonely Boys, the youngest in the bunch, go in for classic blues-rock. But their musical common ground also gives them the freedom to dig into onstage collaboration, which will make for a helluva heady show.
East LA CA | Rock
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.”
“We went into that studio and the first day everyone was asking, ’Does anyone have any material?’” recalls guitarist/vocalist Cesar Rosas. “So I said, ’Well, I have a couple of songs.’ Then Dave started hitting the keys and he came up with something, and then Louie followed. That’s the way everything worked out; that’s the way we made this record.”
“What I liked about making this album,” says Hidalgo, “was the spirit of it: nobody said no to anything. If you had an idea, OK, try it. Just go for it and see where we end up.”
“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.”
That unified vision and strong work ethic are evident in each of the 11 tracks comprising the self-produced Tin Can Trust, but so is something even greater, “an intuitiveness,” says Pérez, “that happens only from being in a band for so long.”
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.
“This is what happens when five guys create a magical sound, then stick together for 30 years to see how far it can take them,” wrote Rolling Stone, and indeed, Los Lobos is a band that continually redefines itself and expands its scope with each passing year, while never losing sight of where they came from. Through sheer camaraderie and respect for one another’s musicality, they’ve continued to explore who Los Lobos is and what they have to offer, without succumbing to the burnout that plagues so many other bands that stick it out for any considerable length of time. Their influence is vast, yet they remain humble, centered and dedicated to their craft. Each new recording they make moves Los Lobos into another new dimension while simultaneously sounding like no one else in the world but Los Lobos. As All About Jazz raved, “The genius of Los Lobos resides in their innate ability to find the redemptive power of music, no matter the style they choose to play.”
“We’re long haul guys,” says Berlin. “If you’re in it for the long haul it makes staying together a lot easier. It’s a challenge, but the thing I’m most proud of is that we’ve never rested on our laurels. We keep trying to make every record feel like the first one and try to do the best we can and not tread on territory we have already trod on. What you hear is exactly what we wanted to do.”
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.
The characters that populate Tin Can Trust are often anxious and hurting yet they remain resilient and proud. The scenarios in which they find themselves and the emotions they are experiencing are all familiar. It wasn’t until Pérez and his songwriting partner Hidalgo had crafted the title track and another highlight of the album, “On Main Street,” that the album’s focus started to come into view. Says Pérez, “I usually have to find the direction everything wants to go. I try not to resist because as soon as you start fighting and move it in another direction, it just doesn’t work.”
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.
Of the remaining four tracks, three were written in whole or in part by Rosas, and the other is a cover of the Grateful Dead’s “West L.A. Fadeaway.” Lobos and the Dead have a shared history that extends back into the 1980s when the Angelenos befriended and opened shows for their northern peers. Los Lobos previously covered the Dead’s “Bertha” for a tribute album, and as Tin Can Trust took shape it occurred to the band to tuck “West L.A. Fadeaway,” which originally appeared on the Dead’s most successful album, 1987’s In the Dark, into their own new project.
“We were fooling around with it live for awhile,” says Pérez, “and then when we got into the studio I think it was Cesar who said, ’We’ve been messing with “West L.A. Fadeaway” for a while in our live shows. Why don’t we try learning it?’ We said, ’That would certainly light up a lot of lives,’ because the Dead fans and Lobo-heads have always asked, ’Why don’t you do another Grateful Dead song?’” Astute Dead Heads will also notice the co-authorship credited to Robert Hunter, the Grateful Dead’s chief lyricist, on “All My Bridges Burning,” which he wrote with Rosas. Amidst soaring, fuzzed-out guitars, spiritual organ from guest Rev. Charles Williams, rock-solid drumming and Lozano’s dependably in-the-pocket bass grooves, Rosas delivers Hunter’s words with heart and soul.
Rosas supplied the two Spanish-language numbers on Tin Can Trust, the cumbia “Yo Canto” and the norteño “Mujer Ingrata,” both of which forge a connection to the Mexican folk songs played by Los Lobos in their formative years and on their classic 1988 album La Pistola y El Corazón. “’Mujer Ingrata,’” says Rosas, “has to do with a relationship gone bad. The title means ungrateful woman. And ’Yo Canto’ is about seeing different people and looking at some nice chicks! These aren’t social comments about anything,” he adds with a laugh. “I write the plain songs and the traditional songs.”
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.”
“To sit around in the afternoons and play these old songs we had heard when we were kids, it felt good,” adds Hidalgo. “We’d get some Budweiser and some flatbread and string cheese and hang around. It was cool. Then it grew. The old folks were blessing us and thanking us for playing this music. That’s why we’re still here, because of moments like that.”
Their first several years, says Pérez, were a “chapter,” as Lobos began discovering who they were as a creative unit. The band’s 1978 Spanish-language debut found only a small audience, and quality gigs were few. “We ended up doing happy hours strolling in a Mexican restaurant. That wasn’t what we had in mind,” says Hidalgo.
By 1980, though, they began to turn up the volume, returning to rock music. At first, acceptance was evasive—at one notorious gig, Los Lobos was rejected by a hostile hometown crowd while opening for John Lydon’s post-Sex Pistols band Public Image Ltd. Before long though, Los Lobos had begun to build an audience within L.A.’s punk and roots-rock world. An opening slot for hometown rock heroes the Blasters at the Sunset Strip’s legendary Whisky A-Go-Go in 1982 was a breakthrough, and that band’s saxophonist Steve Berlin took a special interest in Lobos, joining the group full-time for 1984’s critically acclaimed Slash Records debut, How Will the Wolf Survive?
As the ’80s kicked in for real, Los Lobos’ fortunes quickly turned in a positive direction, and they became one of the most highly regarded bands to emerge from the fertile L.A. scene. “It was one of those places and times, like ’67 in San Francisco or Paris in the ’20s,” says Berlin. “A lot of really superlative creative energy was focused in that place at that time. It was a very collegial atmosphere because everybody was experimenting with everything: with their identities, with their music. It was a very exciting time to be in a place where everybody around you was doing really interesting stuff. To this day I think that ethos informs a lot of what we do.”
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.”
Rather than capitalize on the elevated commercial profile that “La Bamba” had given them, Los Lobos instead chose to record as a followup La Pistola y El Corazón, paying tribute to their acoustic Mexican acoustic music roots. The next breakthrough came in 1992 with the release of Kiko, an album cited by many—including all of Los Lobos—as one of the best of their career. Bringing together all of the elements on which they had previously drawn and taking more liberties than in the past, Kiko “demonstrated the breadth of their sonic ambitions,” as the All Music Guide website put it. Comments Rosas, “With that album we didn’t want to be tied down to all the conventional ways of recording, so we started experimenting and making up sounds.”
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.
“There’s this thing that still happens, this musical thing,” says Pérez. “But if you took everything away, even the music, you’d still end up with four guys who were friends and hung out and grew up in the same neighborhood. And you can’t take that friendship away from us.”
“We’re brothers and we all equally recognize that,” says Rosas. “That’s what keeps us going, knowing that we need to help each other and we need to get through this and we work well together. And we keep it real.”
“We’re incredibly lucky,” adds Berlin. So are we—lucky to have Los Lobos
Los Lonely Boys
San Angelo TX | Rock
Can anything even more magical happen in the already charmed career of Los Lonely Boys? You bet. It’s called Rockpango, their first self produced long player on their own LonelyTone/Playing In Traffic Records. And yeah, it’s magical indeed.
At least as magical — and maybe more so — as debuting in 2003 with a multi-chart gold single, selling millions of albums, winning a Grammy, racking up reams of critical acclaim, opening for The Rolling Stones, and many more accomplishments for the Texican rock’n’roll trio of brothers. Plus playing and recording with such legends as Willie Nelson and Carlos Santana, associations that give a strong hint at what’s at work here on Rockpango.
After proving themselves one of the most stunning and wonderful musical success stories of the last decade, Los Lonely Boys are now carving out their legend with their fourth studio album. Even though the band has already shown they can “up the ante with greater musicianship and confidence” (People) every time out, on Rockpango they heighten the trajectory, open up their sound, and show what flourishing maturity feels like from these veteran yet still young and burgeoning musical talents.
Rockpango is a spirit and sound coined by Los Lonely Boys that takes the next step from fandango (a beat of loving celebration) and then huapango (another infectious Latin rhythm that gets the fiesta cooking) to a full-scale Tex-Mex American roots rock party galore. Bursting out of the gate with the simmering and slinky “American Idle” that scans today’s tough economic times, and wrapping up 10 tracks later with the fierce and fiery assertion that love is the answer on “Believe,” Los Lonely Boys look at the big picture around us with the concerns and continuing faith that come with well-grounded adulthood.
Their ever-expanding musical vision fills the set with new facets that further reveal the group’s already notable artistic diversity. “16 Monkeys” is a delightfully funky slice of infectious neo-bohemian wit and wordplay, while orchestration by the Tosca String Quartet adds classic rock-pop sophistication on the achingly beautiful “Road To Nowhere” and the Beatle-esque gem “Smile.” And they fuse deep blues with a hip-hop twist on “Porn Star,” which includes a razor-sharp rap at the tail end by Kush, one of their Texas extended family relations.
They soar on “Fly Away,” rip it up to percolating Latin beats on “Love In My Veins” and “Baby Girl,” and reassert their mastery of the classic music that influences them as demonstrated on their recent 1969 EP. They deliver ’60s style blues-rockers on the rousing title tune and powerfully loping “Change The World” — two more slices of their spot-on social commentary and consciousness.
The trademark Los Lonely Boys genetic vocal blend is deeper, richer, more fluent and confident than ever. The rhythms are utterly irresistible as well as flush with smart syncopation and muscular drive, abetted on some tracks by tour percussionist Carmelo “Melo” Torres. The brothers’ songwriting skills stamp indelibility on every winning number. And Henry Garza goes even beyond what Guitar World hails as being a “guitarist with chops out his ass who doesn't care about chops [and] just opens up and plays.” Joined by veteran Austin player Riley Osbourn on keyboards, Los Lonely Boys deliver and more on Rockpango.
“I’m super proud of it,” says JoJo Garza, bassist and middle brother in the triumvirate. “It’s just progress, maturation and growth. Growing up, being older, seeing the world we’re living in. It’s also touching base with home.”
Los Lonely Boys tale to date is already the stuff legends are made of: Playing behind their father as kids in cantinas and honky-tonks. Moving to Nashville in their teens to try to win a record deal. Returning to their native Texas, where the brothers made their bones on the club scene as a live act. Releasing their self-titled debut, which goes double platinum, and penning a #1 radio hit in “Heaven.”
Two more stellar studio albums followed: Sacred (2006) and Forgiven (2008). In 2009, they cut 1969, an EP that leaps back four decades to reveal how the group’s roots extend well past their birthdates on songs by The Beatles, Santana, The Doors, Buddy Holly and Tony Joe White. 2010 brought about the release of Keep On Giving: Acoustic Live! a snapshot of their recent acoustic tour.
So after all that, what’s left but to meet the new decade with the great leap forward, upward, outward and onward of Rockpango? “It was just time to grow and change,” explains JoJo. “But not change too much. It’s kind of like a tree. A tree doesn’t actually change much as it grows. It gets taller, grows more branches, gets thicker and stronger.
“I think it’s one of our best if not our best,” he adds. “We took the ball and I think we scored a touchdown.”
And after eight years of championship seasons, Rockpango paves the way for Los Lonely Boys to enter the rock’n’roll pantheon of legendary musical artists while also remaining true to themselves. “We’re still Lonely Boys,” JoJo insists, chuckling in agreement that they are also now Los Lonely Men who have truly come of age on their latest. “We’re still family, we’re still three brothers, we’re still doing what the good Lord has blessed us with, and that’s singing and and playing for people who really want to listen."
Austin TX | Rock
Alejandro Escovedo is one with his muse and his music. Over a lifetime spent traversing the bridge between words and melody, he has ranged over an emotional depth that embraces all forms of genre and presentation, a resolute voice that weathers the emotional terrain of our lives, its celebrations and despairs, landmines and blindsides and upheavals and beckoning distractions, in search for ultimate release and the healing truth of honesty. Sometimes it takes the form of barely contained rage, the rock of punk amid kneeled feedback; sometimes it caresses and soothes, a whispery harmony riding the air of a nightclub room, removed from amplification, within the audience.
His rise has been gradual, a steady incline rather than a quick ascendance, but it has deepened and burnished his music, made it closer to the bone, where it begins to break, deepening his insight and his ability to find that insight in performance. His tireless touring, and dogged determination to place one album after another, has taken him through many musical scenes, remaining the same persona within each, of an artist who doesn't settle for the easy way out.
"You just do your good work, and people care," Alejandro says over the phone beginning a promotional tour for his latest work, Street Songs of Love, his tenth solo album. "I always believed, when I was a kid, that if you just worked hard, you would find fulfillment. I think I got a lot of that from my father, and my brothers. A working musician is all I ever wanted to be. Hard work, to stay true to what you want to do, and then eventually someone would notice for that very reason."