Los Lobos: Kiko @ 20 (x3)
In the twenty years since the release of Kiko, Los Lobos has made albums equally brilliantThe Town and The City (Mammoth, 2006) for instancebut it has never made one better. This eighth album from the East Los Angeles band, in fact, stands as a template for all subsequent Los Lobos albums (hear 2011's Tin Can Trust) in its seamless blend of eclectic musical styles, evocative lyrics, creative production and the savvy, seasoned musicianship.The album is a unified song cycle which has few equals in the annals of rock, but even so, the release of three separate pieces (in a variety of combinations) might seem overkill except to the devoted aficionado of the band. Still, anyone just being introduced to Los Lobos via this title may discover the two CDs and DVD/Blu-Ray as essential to their appreciation of the title and the superlative band that continues to bring it to life. The absence of musician credits on the live pieces, except during the scroll on the DVD, is an avoidable oversight on an otherwise fully comprehensive recognition of the accomplishment that is Kiko.
Kiko: 20th Anniversary Edition
Thanks in part to Tchad Blake's original mastering (augmented by the rework of Dave McNair), the sound of this remastered disc is deep, rich and full, accommodating the low resonant tones of bassist Conrad Lozano's instrument, extra percussion on tracks like the stunning opener "Dream in Blue" and the textural contrast provided by keyboardist Steve Berlin's work. And that's not to mention his sax lines on that tune as well as the small touches such as multi-instrumentalist/vocalist/composer David Hidalgo's accordion on the title track. Guitarist/vocalist/composer Cesar Rosas provides effective changes of pace, not just penning rootsy tunes like "That Train Don't Stop Here No More," but singing in a tenor voice, slightly higher, though no less soulful in its own way, than Hidalgo's. And the latter's lead guitar work on tracks like "Wake Up Dolores" wholly transcends both his blues (Albert King) and rock (Jimi Hendrix) influences.
To an even greater extent than on the original recording, the dream-like quality of these songs, as Los Lobos played them live in 2006, is wholly enveloping, particularly as the vividly cinematic likes of "Two Janes," remains juxtaposed with direct emotional expression like "Whiskey Train" and "Short Side of Nothin.'" Throughout the performance in San Diego, Lobos is less interested in replicating the original recording to the note (though there's no denying the quintet is ultra-tight), than in reconnecting with the feelings that arose when writing and recording this music to begin with. Los Lobos itself seems wholly caught up in this rarefied state of mind during the course of the concert. The expanded remaster of Kiko builds upon the revelatory inclusion of demos and additional live takes recorded for NPR included as bonus cuts, while during this House of Blues appearance, the fivesome, augmented by assertive young drummer Cougar Estrada, similarly contrasts acoustic and electric instruments. It's a versatile approach that sounds perfectly natural, and effectively reflects Lobos' balance of traditional and contemporary approaches.
Kiko Live DVD/Blu-ray
The sum effect, as captured on the DVD (or Blu-ray), is absolutely stunning, especially when opting to for the latter configuration's concert footage, uninterrupted by interview segments. Having forsaken the drum stool for his spot center stage, guitarist/vocalist/ composer Louis Perez' intellect simultaneously inspires and sews together the otherwise disparate elements at work within Kiko live as well as in the studio (and, as he recounts it during his interviews, the early conceptual stages of the album). The inclusion of encore pieces complete the presentation as it happened, but in a wholly unconventional sequence that accurately represents the group's respect for its roots as the foundation of its own singular style: Rosas performs "Carabina 30-30" solo with the horn section that appeared for "Rio de Tenampa," Perez returns to his original seat at the drums for "Volver Volver," and "La Bamba" appears in its traditional form. The explication of the roots of Richie Valens' (and Lobos') single mainstream success supplies fascinating historical perspective, but perhaps no less so than further interviews with band members (largely from Lozano, who has the lowest public profile in the group) that illuminate the gestation, creation and fulfillment of Kiko, not to mention that of the band itself. It thus becomes clear how the bond that has grown between the group transcends the musical unit but also acts as its foundation, the resulting relationship imparting a humanity to its best music, such as Kiko, that makes it all that much more affecting.
Tracks and Personnel
Kiko: 20th Anniversary Edition
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.
Kiko Live (CD)
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.
Personnel: David Hidalgo: guitar, vocals, accordion; Conrad R. Lozano: bass, guitarrón, vocals, Louis Pérez: guitar, percussion; Cesar Rosas: guitar, vocals; Steve Berlin: keyboard, saxophone; Cougar Estrada: drums, percussion. Guests: David Hidalgo Jr: drums; Angel Abundez: harp; Hugo Arroyo: tuba; Jorge Cruz: clarinet; Hector Espinoza: clarinet; Tom Fuglestad: trumpet; Cristian Rodriguez: tarolas; Eugene Rodriguez: tambora.
Kiko Live (DVD)
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. Bonus Encore Performances: Carabina 30-30; Volver, Volver; La Bamba. Additional Band Interviews. Vignettes: Hi-Fi Low-Fi ; The Story of La Bamba; The Music Reveals Itself. Slide Show.
Personnel: David Hidalgo: guitar, vocals, accordion; Conrad R. Lozano: Bass, guitarrón, vocals, Louis Pérez: guitar, percussion; Cesar Rosas: guitar, vocals; Steve Berlin: keyboard, saxophone; Cougar Estrada: drums, percussion. Guests: David Hidalgo Jr: drums; Angel Abundez: harp; Hugo Arroyo: tuba; Jorge Cruz: clarinet; Hector Espinoza: clarinet; Tom Fuglestad: trumpet; Cristian Rodriguez: tarolas; Eugene Rodriguez: tambora.
Concert (with embedded interview footage): 107 mins; Concert (without interview footage): 83 min; Encores: 14 mins. Vignettes: 9 mins. Slide Show: 4 mins. Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo and Dolby Digital 5. 1 Surround.