Los Lobos – Gates of Gold (ALBUM REVIEW)

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lobosalbumOne of the great joys of a new Los Lobos album—and there are many—is the sense of anticipation for the unexpected. For the records from this great band from east LA take many forms including the narratives-in-song such as The Town and The City, a (relatively) straightforward collection of originals like This Time and. of course, the dazzling experimentation and extension of roots in the form of Kiko.

Gates of Gold is the successor to 2010’s Tin Can Trust and, like that unassuming mix of self-composed songs and covers, it sounds instantly familiar but equally fresh (and  personal rather than topical)  as it opens with “Made to Break Your Heart.” Layered textures of acoustic guitars combine with drums and percussion to lay the groundwork for the slow-motion explosion of David Hidalgo’s guitar solo, echoes of which run through the remainder of this track to its final eruption.

In the warm rumble of Conrad Lozano’s bass lines, “When We Were Free” exhibits the tactile depth of sound Lobos created in producing this record themselves, primarily at Blue Velvet Studio. It’s a sensation reaffirmed as the glowing electric piano Steve Berlin plays there seasons the arrangement as much as his saxophone, all of which proceeds at a tranquilizing pace in keeping with the unsentimental but fond remembrances comprising the song’s lyrics.

The versatility Los Lobos commands, in the band’s eclectic grasp of styles and its collection of personalities, becomes even more striking with the subsequent fast shuffle that is “Mis-Treater Boogie Blues.” Cesar Rosas leads the charge here, so that the self-assurance of the playing allows the group to transcend a title that appears over-obvious until they begin to play. The more inventive structure of “There I Go” follows immediately, illustrating how the continuity of tracks on Gates of Gold lends the music a glow that mirrors the album’s title. In much the same way, the English translation of Los Lobos’ hometown (‘the city of angels’) reflects an earthy spiritualism deep inside compositions like the closer, “Magdalena,” and, tellingly to an even greater extent, the gospel-inflected title song.

A Lobos studio record wouldn’t be complete without a tune rooted in their Mexican heritage and here, right behind the obviously (and righteously-rendered) homage to Jimi Hendrix, “Too Small Heart,” is “Paquito Para Aqui,” its acoustic arrangement, including accordion, all the more effective in the wake of the electric firestorm that precedes it. In fairly quick succession too is “La Tumba Sera Final,” as lilting as its counterpart as sung by Rosas, even though he didn’t write it: the musicality in his voice is all the more remarkable given he can render the aforementioned nasty blues equally convincingly.

In a song sequence that erects a circular logic within these eleven cuts, the latter idiom reappears in the form of a genre piece called “I Believed You So,” that, like it’s counterpart, is the essence of authenticity. Forty years into their musical adventure, Los Lobos sound as curious as they are skilled, a combination of virtues rare in any musical context, but one that, here, ignites and nurtures a steady burning fire within the playing and the singing.

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