Houndog: Houndog

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No stars How we rate: our writers tend to review music they like within their preferred genres.

For years now Los Lobos have been one of America's most critically-acclaimed and inventive rock bands. Despite little commercial success, aside from hitting the top 10 in the '80s with a cover of Richie Valens' "La Bamba," Los Lobos have left behind a trail of brilliant albums that will sound as fresh in 25 years as they have over the last two decades.

In '99, the Los Lobos collective invested their artistic efforts in solo projects. Cesar Rojas cut a record of blues-tinged rock tunes that fell short of the inspired, psychedelic, funky Tex-Mex rock he contributes to his main band. Dave Hildago paired with fellow band-mate Louis Perez for their on again, off again project the Latin Playboys. The result was Dose, a record rife with sound experimentation and electronic soul.

Dave Hildago also teamed with Mike Halby, a former sideman to Canned Heat and John Mayall, for a project fittingly dubbedHoundog. A low-fi, tossed off collection of nine raw blues tunes that feel to be soaked in depression, booze and nonchalance the way any good blues record should. The tone is set from the beginning with "No Chance," a slow, spooky ode to a no good woman who still manages to hold the key to her former lover's heart. As the record progresses, we get the feeling that we've stumbled in on some random, wasted night where the duo decided to get together and drown their sorrows in music. The instrumentation throughout is minimalist, as are the lyrics and performances. Mike Halby's violin pops up from time to time, supplying raggedy, heart-wrenching textures that aren't frequently employed on blues records. Halby's solos on "I'll Change My Style" takes the tune from sad and lonely to downright grieving.

By the fourth song, we're either nixing this disc or having made up our minds that we can relate - along for the ride. They kick it here with "Down Time," Hildago's gritty, hoarse vocals moaning over a muffled, acoustic blues romp: "Down time, Goin' low, Sinkin' deeper, Goin' Slow - I hate the morning sun, guess it's time to run - gotta get well to my head." In all this pain, there's an underlying beauty, maybe in the acceptance of desperate circumstances and the willingness to deal with them through song. By the album closer "Killin' Me," Hildago seems to confirm this observation: "Whiskey and drugs - can't heal the loss, I've accepted whatever the cost."

If the blues is about conveying strife and life's darker emotions through music, and not based on any predetermined musical style or form, then Houndog have captured the sound of the blues at the turn of the millenium. In the information age where technology seems to put a new spin on anything and everything, Houndog's blues cut through to shed light on the core of the human spirit. Few records in the '90s can claim to do so in such sincere fashion. It's doubtful we'll ever see Houndog's skeletal compositions fleshed out and developed in the "live" setting. But maybe records like Houndog are better as tossed off, one time shots - listened to three or four times and then put on the shelf to collect dust until a dark, lonely night demands they be spun once again.

Record Label: Columbia Records

Style: Fringes of Jazz

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