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Hardly Strictly Jazz

Los Lobos: Kiko - 20th Anniversary Edition

By Published: August 25, 2012
Very few records ever sounded this... different. "Dream In Blue" opens the album with a snare drum that sounds like a cross between a New Orleans parade rhythm and something conventionally Latin, topped with a bass line right off an old War
record, fragmented electric guitar, and baritone saxophone and fuzztone guitar stacked together in some kind of off-kilter horn section. Hidalgo sings lead on this one and takes a short guitar solo worthy of (insert guitar genius name here). This Lobos—thanks in no small part to the production team of Mitchell Froom and Tchad Blake—had arrived in rarified songcraft/sonic territory while keeping its roots expression completely intact. The full-on blues explosion of "That Train Don't Stop Here Anymore" features Hidalgo and Rosas (who sings lead on the track) trading off blistering guitar solos, before Berlin closes the tune out with a great, rude baritone saxophone solo. The whole record is characterized by audacious sonic choices, inventive instrument combinations, and striking recording technqiues.

The blues blast of "That Train" is followed by "Kiko And The Lavender Moon," a dark cumbia that paints itself in dark muted acoustic and electric tones, sounding nothing like the tune before yet cut clearly from the same cloth.

The entire disc moves through a carefully sculpted musical world but never loses its improvisory edge, the ensemble feeling almost like some Latinized cross between XTC and the Grateful Dead while leaning on Latin and funk rhythms in a way that makes sure we know the Lobos grew up on bands like El Chicano
El Chicano
El Chicano

bass, electric
and Malo, whose singles were staples of East LA car radios. Whereas on the previous albums, the band stayed in a more typical roots pocket—breaking stylistic rank generally to go into Mexican folk territory—Kiko shows a band that discards no influence. Moreover, David Hidalgo and Cesar Rosas emerge as a guitar duo and dynamic and original as any since Richard Lloyd and Tom Verlaine of Television, but with a deeper, blusier base. There is an impossibly high level of invention in the playing throughout this disc

The record's Americana moments are placed throughout almost as stepping stones. Tunes like "Whiskey Trail" and "Peace" prove the group's roots sensibilities were as intact as ever, but they're not the centerpieces they would likely have been on previous Lobos records, nor are these roots by any means exclusively American. The extremely (Mexican) traditional "Saint Behind The Glass" sounds is a harp-driven folk song. And the record's closer, "Rio De Tenampa," intentionally opens with a blast of distorted saxophones that sound like they came off one of those crappy banda records that use synthesizer horns instead of real ones. While the overall impression of this record is otherworldly, Kiko contstantly reminds, "Wherever this music might be going, it comes from this grounded place."

(Kiko's follow-up, 1996's Colossal Head, on Warner Bros., might even be better.)

It's twenty years since this record first hit the streets. Its critical reputation is huge, bordering on hyperbole. Whatever. Los Lobos is now forty years together, and is probably America's Band as much as any band can be. Kiko says why, in unimpeachable musical language.

Tracks: Dream in Blue; Wake Up Dolores; Angels with Dirty Faces; That Train Don't Stop Here; Kiko and the Lavender Moon; Saint Behind the Glass; Reva's House; When the Circus Comes; Arizona Skies; Short Side of Nothing; Two Janes; Wicked Rain; Whiskey Trail; Just a Man; Peace; Rio de Tenampa; Whiskey Trail (studio demo); Rio de Tenampa (studio demo); Peace (live); Arizona Skies/Borinquen Patria Mia (live); Kiko and the Lavendar Moon (live).

Personnel: Steve Berlin: tenor, baritone and soprano saxophone, flute, melodic, harmonica, organ, piano, synthesizer, percussion; David Hidalgo: guitars, accordion, violin, banjo, piano, percussion, vocals; Conrad R. Lozano: Fender 5-string Jazz bass and 4-string Precision bass, Godin fretless bass, guitarrón, background vocals; Louie Perez: drums, vocals, guitars, percussion, couch and phone; Cesar Rosas: electric and acoustic guitars, vocals; Pete Thomas: drums; Victor Bisetti: drums (15, 16), percussion; Fermin Herrera: Veracruz harp (6); Alex Acuña: percussion; Gary Mallaber: drums (2); Mitchell Froom and his House of Keyboards La Chilapeña brass band.

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