In contrast to the authoritative blues, rock and soul leanings of Los Lobos’ last two albums, The Ride is a much more eclectic affair, which is in keeping with the plethora of guests that appear throughout its fourteen tracks. It may simply be a matter of taste whether this rootsy affair is more or less satisfying than those recent projects that flirted with the mainstream, but there’s no denying that Lobos itself is a background presence here: while their music has always taken precedence over their own collective persona(this band from east LA is as self-deprecating as they are industrious), on this disc they humbly redirect much of what is so winning about the band in support of the outside musicians who appear with them, all of which is ultimately in service of the music itself.
Nevertheless, Lobos make their presence felt, albeit indiscernibly, throughout the disc. And nowhere more so than on “Someday:” David Hidalgo’s yearning vocal and flaming guitar on this penultimate cut reminds you how authoritatively the band played through out the album. It also leaves you with the nagging sensation you want to hear more of the band itself—and not just as backupbut the collaboration between Cesar Rosas and Grateful Dead lyricist Robert Hunter, “Hurry Tomorrow,” maintains the open-ended improvisational feel that comprised much of This Time. It’s almost as if the tracks with Lobos ‘solo’, so to speak, are sequenced to remind the listener why the rest of The Ride , with older material reworked and multi-faceted contributions from outside the band itself, is so deeply moving, no matter far removed a given track may be from the rock and blues leanings of Good Morning Aztlan.
Los Lobos display a versatility throughout the album that’s comparable to what you hear from The Band on The Last Waltz. When artists such as Tom Waits appear on “Kitate,” the predominantly acoustic Mexican groove is as prominent as the electricity of “Charmed,” where the band is ‘solo.’ R&B great Bobby Womack sings his heart out on the coupling of “Wicked Rain” (originally on Kiko ) and “Across 110th Street.” With the band keeping itself to a whisper in the background, Elvis Costello doesn’t sound much less soulful or heartfelt in his rendition of “Matter of Time”(which is also one of three appearances by keyboardist Garth Hudson of the Band). Richard Thompson absolutely takes over on “Wreck of Carlos Bay,” by dint of his commanding vocal and pointed guitar work, but Los Lobos are right with him every step of the way; it’s an intense performance matched by Ruben Blades’ singing on the tune he co-wrote with Rosas and Hidalgo “Ya Se Va,” where the rhythm pops with the surety of musicians who learned their cops on the streets and have never forgotten those lessons.
The latter cut recalls a ‘sit up and listen’ appearance by Blades a couple years ago on the Derek Trucks Band’s Joyful Noise , a cd as densely populated with outside musicians and singers as The Ride ; in the same way that album retained and clearly manifest the personality of DTB, so it is with Los Lobos on The Ride. The only legitimate complaint about this cd is also a fatuous one: you might wish this was a double disc affair, allowing more room for this great American band to assert itself independently as often as they defer gracefully, and complementarily, to their roster of invitees.
For more information about Los Lobos, visit www.loslobos.org .