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Los Lobos: Native Sons

Doug Collette BY

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Los Lobos: Native Sons
Unusual as it may seem for a veteran band like Los Lobos to display the artistic humility of Native Sons, only a single original song appears here surrounded by a diverse round of cover material by artists based in and around their home city of Los Angeles. It's a generosity of spirit that actually recalls an earlier album, The Ride (Hollywood/Mammoth Records, 2004), wherein this tenured band shared writing and playing credit with the likes of Richard Thompson and Elvis Costello. Like that inspired collection of collaborations, this self-produced album in its own way exhibits the virtues of Los Lobos just about as vividly as an LP comprised of solely its own compositions.

In just a cursory perusal of the titles, some selections may seem more familiar than others. Buffalo Springfield's "For What It's Worth," for instance, is that mythic band's signature song released back in 1966 and composed by Stephen Stills. Yet Lobos also highlight another superb number of his from a year later on the band's sophomore album. They couple this tune, "Bluebird," with "For What It's Worth," wherein guitarist David Hidalgo, with uncanny accuracy, replicates the taut interplay between the song's author and Neil Young on the original (the latter's son plays drums here as he does on six other of these baker's dozen cuts, while his own fretboard partner, Cesar Rosas, plays multiple instruments throughout the album); for those curious, this segue may well provide the ideal gateway into this remarkable record.

No array of music from California would be complete without a choice from the extensive discography of the The Beach Boys. But, in another surprising twist, Los Lobos chooses to rework—but only slightly—"Sail On Sailor," a tune from the album Holland (Brother Records, 1973) The vocal harmonies hearken to the same resolute sentiment as Los Lobos' own ode to self-reliance the vintage "How Will the Wolf Survive?," so the extension of such continuity makes this cull from one of the fallow periods of Brian Wilson's career of a piece with Jackson Browne's drama of the sea and sand, "Jamaica Say You Will."

Even as he tugs at the heartstrings with the tender and affectionate soul intrinsic to the music of Los Lobos, the activist cum poet laureate of the Golden State tenders an implicitly topical statement underscored with knowing fatalism. Likewise socially-conscious but never pedantic, the quintet's solemn inclusion of War's "The World Is A Ghetto" could not be more apropos in the wake of the COVID19 quarantines either. Still, on the flip side of that cathartic coin, the group could not sound more gleeful in its embrace of its garage-rock roots on "Farmer John," its inclusion indicative of the emotional range that mirrors the eclectic style(s) populating this album as produced by the enduring band from East L.A. itself.

Placed directly in the middle of these thirteen cuts, the self-referential title tune is a statement unto itself. Composed by Hidalgo with charter member Louie Perez, Jr., the number links with songs directly and deeply rooted in Los Lobos' ethnic heritage. In turns rhythm-heavy (thanks to Camilo Quinones percussion) and loyal to roots appraoch via Phil Parlapiano's keyboards. Willie Bobo's "Dichoso" is of a piece with bluesman Percy Mayfield's "Never No More," thoroughly reaffirming the sequencing logic of Native Sons. Likewise of a piece are the Spanish-flavored "Los Chuco Suaves," as well as the blues of "Never No More," plus the horn-laden likes of "Love Special Delivery." Bassist Conrad Lozano provides his customarily sturdy yet nimble foundation the deep resounding tones of his instrument accurately recorded and mixed by Chris Sorem.

In contrast, during Dave Alvin's "Flat Top Joint," the band sounds oddly stiff. It's almost as if the group is deliberately recalling their nights of inhabiting clubs, not quite sure how to end an evening of playing their hearts out and their asses off. But that pose may simply be role-playing on this number by Bluzblasters who were Los Lobos' early label-mates' on Slash Records, who boasted the presence of one Steve Berlin who, after a number of sit-ins, joined forces with Hidalgo, Perez, Rosas and Lozano. His multi-instrumental skills are integral to tracks like the 1965 Chicano instrumental, "Where Lovers Go," where, set up by the stolid air of the aforementioned penultimate cut, its celebratory air becomes all the more prevalent as an ideal conclusion to this LP.

In its own way too, the muted late-night atmosphere of that number echoes the bittersweet aura radiating from the sunset/sunrise cover photos on Native Sons. Extensive 'Track-by-Track' notes appear in the enclosed twenty-four page booklet wherein Los Lobos explicate the logic behind the choices of tunes as well as the rationale for their arrangements, varied insights and observations radiating all the passion and affection within the music. These hometown heroes make the most of every opportunity here to speak volumes without ever saying too much.

Track Listing

Love Special Delivery; Misery; Bluebird/For What It's Worth; Los Chuco Suaves; Jamaica Say You Will; Never No More; Native Son; Farmer John; Dichoso; Sail On, Sailor; The World Is A Ghetto; Flat Top Joint; Where Lovers Go.

Personnel

David Hidalgo: guitar; Louie Perez, Jr.: guitar; Cesar Rosas: guitar; Conrad Lozano: bass; Steve Berlin: keyboards; David Hidalgo, Jr.: drums; Jason Lozano: drums; Camilo Quinones: percussion; Phil Parlapiano: keyboards; Dannie Ramirez: trombone; Aaron Ballesteros: drums; Little Willie G.: voice / vocals; Jacob G.: voice / vocals; Barrence Whitefield: voice / vocals; Enrique "Bugs" Gonzalez: voice / vocals.

Additional Instrumentation

David Hidalgo: vocals; Louie Perez, Jr.: vocals; Cesar Rosas: vocals, bass, Hammond B3; Conrad Lozano: vocals; Steve Berlin: saxes, Midisax.

Album information

Title: Native Sons | Year Released: 2021 | Record Label: New West Records

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