March 10, 2012
More than three decades have passed since Los Lobos released their debut album, Just Another Band from East L.A. Since then they’ve repeatedly disproven that title—Los Lobos isn’t “just another” anything, but rather a band that has consistently evolved artistically while never losing sight of their humble roots.
For Tin Can Trust—Los Lobos’ first release for Shout! Factory (due August 3) and first collection of new original material in four years—the venerable quintet reconnected directly with those roots by returning to East L.A. and recording at Manny’s Estudio “in a rundown neighborhood,” says Los Lobos songwriter/multi-instrumentalist Louie Pérez. “That took us out of our comfort zone and allowed us to do what we hadn’t done in quite some time: to play together in the same room, as one. This was not about putting your feet up; this was about working.”
“This was a no-frills studio,” adds David Hidalgo (guitar, violin, accordion, percussion, vocals). “We didn’t even have a couch to sit on; we had to bring one in.” “We went into that studio and the first day everyone was asking, ‘Does anyone have any material?’” recalls guitarist/vocalist Cesar Rosas. “So I said, ‘Well, I have a couple of songs.’” Then Dave started hitting the keys and he came up with something, and then Louie followed. That’s the way everything worked out; that’s the way we made this record.”
That unified vision and strong work ethic are evident in each of the 11 tracks comprising the self-produced Tin Can Trust, but so is something even greater, “an intuitiveness,” says Pérez, “that happens only from being in a band for so long.”
A rare example of longevity in a volatile music world that stresses style over substance, Los Lobos’ lineup has remained uninterrupted since 1984, when saxophonist/keyboardist Steve Berlin joined original members Pérez, Hidalgo, Rosas and Lozano, each of whom had been there since the beginning in 1973.
“This is what happens when five guys create a magical sound, then stick together for 30 years to see how far it can take them,” wrote Rolling Stone, and indeed, Los Lobos is a band that continually redefines itself and expands its scope with each passing year, while never losing sight of where they came from. Each new recording they make moves Los Lobos into another new dimension while simultaneously sounding like no one else in the world but Los Lobos. As All About Jazz raved, “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.”
A number of tracks on Tin Can Trust are Hidalgo-Pérez collaborations, including the album’s opener “I’ll Burn It Down,” with blues-rocker Susan Tedeschi offering a guest vocal harmony, and “Jupiter or the Moon”—both of which feature Lozano on the upright acoustic bass. Hidalgo and Pérez are also behind “Lady and the Rose,” which Berlin calls “incredible, one of my favorite songs on the record, with great lyrics”; and the album-closing “Twenty Seven Spanishes,” which attempts to encapsulate in one song nothing less than the entire tale of the Spanish conquest of Mexico, “blow by blow,” as Pérez says.
It was during their earliest years that the particular hybrid of traditional regional Mexican folk music, rock and roll, blues, R&B, country and other genres began finding a sweet spot in the music of Los Lobos. “In 1973, when we first formed,” says Pérez, “we were four guys from East L.A. who were friends from high school who played in local rock bands. Then once we got out of high school you still had four guys who were just hanging out together.” Their first several years, says Pérez, were a “chapter,” as Lobos began discovering who they were as a creative unit.
By 1980, they began to turn up the volume, returning to rock music. One of the most momentous events in Los Lobos’ history arrived in 1987, when the band was tapped to cover “La Bamba,” the Mexican folk standard that had been transformed into a rock and roll classic in 1958 when it was recorded by the ill-fated 17-year-old Ritchie Valens.
“There’s this thing that still happens, this musical thing,” says Pérez. “But if you took everything away, even the music, you’d still end up with four guys who were friends and hung out and grew up in the same neighborhood. And you can’t take that friendship away from us.”
“We’re brothers and we all equally recognize that,” says Rosas. “That’s what keeps us going, knowing that we need to help each other and we need to get through this and we work well together. And we keep it real.”
This performance was co-sponsored with the Wheeler Opera House.