By Roy Trakin.
Los Lobos, Gates of Gold (429 Records)
Humbly self-described as “that little band from East L.A.” – Los Lobos Del Este De Los Angeles — the pride of Garfield High School take a well-deserved victory lap to mark 42 years plying its trade, with a long overdue Rock and Roll Hall of Fame nomination and a critical assessment by long-time fan and music journo Chris Morris in the just-published University of Texas Press book, Dream In Blue.
This is their first studio album release in five years, since 2010’s Tin Can Trust – and it offers a definitive glimpse into what makes this band a national treasure, The Band of the barrio. As that seminal rock group was to north of the border, Los Lobos are to the south, a powerful argument that any idea of a Trump-like wall sealing us off from their Mexican homeland should be demolished once and for all.
Like that Dylan-IBM TV spot puts it, the themes in Gates of Gold could be described simply, “Time passes and love fades,” but then again, some things, like the wolves, not only survive, but thrive.
The opening “Made to Break Your Heart” has a plaintive Neil Young feel in its noting of life’s temporality and the primacy of absolute trust, all tempered with some Crazy Horse guitars in its epic break: “Then the sea came along washed away our names in the sand.”
The songwriting team of David Hidalgo andLouie Perez are the Mexican-American Lennon/McCartney, and even that underestimates their seamless collaboration on songs like the soulful, jazzy “When We Were Free,” which may well be a meditation on why the band picked up instruments in the first place. Cesar Rosas brings his patented blues/R&B touch to “Mis-Treater Boogie Blues” and “I Believed You So,” while the band remains steeped in tradition on the norteno/jaracho sound of “Poquito Para Aqui” and their rollicking Tex-Mex cover of Francisco Vidal’s “La Tumba Sera El Final.”
The beauty of Los Lobos is not their politics – though that is always implicit in their message — but their ability to find the common humanity in all of us, in songs like the folkish “Son of the Sun,” with its elemental Biblical references to sun, wind, fire and water, while the closing “Magdalena” is a spiritual benediction with a lush orchestral interlude about the eternal over the material world, their version of “The Weight”: “Magdalena, take my robes/Rid me of this heavy load/Stay beside me on this holy road.” Los Lobos are still on that path, taking us all along on a journey that still has miles to go.