The Town And The City is music for the head, heart and soul. Its sound is deeply atmospheric, its songs emotionally resonant and its concept keenly intelligent. This is the work of a great band uniting its musical and cultural roots in a song cycle imbued with universal relevance.
That might sound pretentious if Los Lobos themselves weren't such down to earth musicians and The Town and The City (titled the same as Jack Kerouac's first major novel) so understated. In fact, some listeners will find the song cycle a challenge, in a negative sense, for that very reason. Instead of assaulting the senses, the music, in all its diverse forms, insinuates itself into the senses. Mixed almost in its entirely by Tchad Blake, who began working with Los Lobos on 1992's Kiko (Warner Bros.), these thirteen tracks are replete with small touches that in total carry profound meaning.
For instance, "Luna immediately follows the late night/early morning rumination of "If You Were Only Here Tonight. The arrangement of percussion and flamenco-styled acoustic guitars, around which curls the burly sound of Steve Berlin's sax, furthers the vivid imagery of the lyrics. On "Valley, David Hidalgo's electric guitars simultaneously recall both George Harrison's work on Revolver (1966) and the spacious likes of early Jimi Hendrix. The deep deliberate tones of Conrad Lozano's bass only expand the mood of a song that suggests its locale, like its title, is all a state of mind.
"No Puedo Mas sounds like just another Spanish romp of Cesar Rosas' until Hidalgo's electric blues guitar snakes through it and the rhythm morphs into a reggae skank. In an album that thrives on contrast, Rosas' voice and the trills in his singing on "Chuco's Cumbia are an effective change of pace from the doleful tones of Hidalgo's vocals.
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. Accordingly, "The Road to Gila Bend, a country song, bears witness to the premise the journey takes precedence over the destination (an illustration of which is Los Lobos' own thirty-plus year career). "Little Things is an R&B ballad of the highest order and deepest feeling. In "Two Dogs and A Bone, the band speaks through the character in the song and thereby avoids pontificating.
The light bounce of "Free Up finds the musicians singing a good-natured challenge to their own mortality, just before once again solemnly recalling their past in "The Town. By the time this track plays, it's been a journey of no small consequence since "Hold On, a declaration of faith that belies its refrain: "I'm killing myself just to stay alive.
Only a single track on The Town and The City, "Don't Ask Why," exceeds five minutes. The cumulative effect of hearing the disc in its entirety, however, will bring rewards long after its playing time is over.
Personnel: David Hidalgo: rhythm and lead guitars, lead and background vocals, percussion;
Cesar Rosas: rhythm guitars, lead and background vocals, percussion; Louie Perez:
rhythm guitars, lead and backgound vocals, drums, percussion; Conrad Lozano: bass,
background vocals; Steve Berlin: saxophones, keyboards, percussion; Cougar
Estrada: drums, percussion.