Friday, September 03, 2021

Los Lobos go on a musical journey that spans time and genre with their latest covers album, ‘Native Sons’

In the echelons of the unfortunately named Tex-Mex subgenre of rock’n’roll, Los Lobos have reached legendary status. Their Chicano rock roots don’t tie the band down, however. 

They have experimented with genres including country, blues, folk, R&B, soul, and even traditional bolero. The prevalent rockers have been going strong since 1973 and are perhaps best known for their hit cover of the Ritchie Valens song ‘La Bamba’ in 1987. This cover brought the band number one success in the charts and international fame. Since then, Los Lobos have perfected their Latin-influenced brand of rock’n’roll and demonstrate it in their most recent covers album, ‘Native Sons’.

Opening with the brassy ‘Love Special Delivery’ (originally by Thee Midniters), the band sounds as tight as ever. The rhythm section (Louie Perez on drums and Conrad Lozano on bass) propels the track beyond the simple bar-band-rock of the compositions. The follow up track, Barrett Strong’s ‘Misery’, is a slower, blues-based song about the pain that a former lover brings. Los Lobos’ take offers nothing groundbreaking here, but the clear musicianship and love of rock’n’roll elevate these covers nonetheless. This elevation is exemplified in the transition from the third track, ‘Bluebird’, into a tasteful, if unexpected, rendition of Buffalo Springfield’s iconic 1966 single, ‘For What It’s Worth’. A timely choice of a cover, the song is perhaps most associated with the turbulent protests and riots of 1960s America.

‘Los Chucos Suaves’ is the first song on the album with Spanish lyrics. Originally performed by Lalo Guerrero, this is the track that perhaps fits most with the public image of Los Lobos, mixing Tejano jazz with Santana-esque rock-guitar solos.

‘Jamaica Say You Will’ is a beautiful cover of Jackson Browne’s acoustic ballad and shows David Hidalgo’s voice to have remained smooth and unchanged by time, capable of imitating Browne’s plaintive vocals.

The soft, Latin-rumba take on Willie Bobo’s ‘Dichoso’ is sandwiched between somewhat surprising cover choices. The first, ‘Farmer John’, was previously released by the band, as a single, in 1981. It’s an R&B classic, and other renditions of it include performances by Neil Young and The Searchers. The confidence in its placement here, a result of its consistency in the band’s setlist for years, is palpable. The track is upbeat and self-assured and includes a kick-ass saxophone solo.

The second unexpected choice is the Beach Boys song, ‘Sail On, Sailor’. Again, the performance of this track sticks to its original arrangement and offers a passionate and faithful rendition of a fan favourite.

‘Sail On, Sailor’ is followed by an eight-minute cover of funk-fusion band War’s ‘The World Is A Ghetto’. A slight misstep, perhaps, since despite the band playing well and the timely social message of the song, this track seems to drag after several shorter and faster-paced songs.

Overall, this cover album shows the longevity of Los Lobos as a band. They are playing better than ever before and are using a variety of genres at their disposal. While the music that’s on offer here may not be innovative, it does show the breadth of influences that Los Lobos draw on. It also demonstrates the strength of the band as a live act.


Josh Lambie


Image: Los Lobos- Native Sons Offical Album Cover (Press)


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