Review Summary: Four chicano's and a white guy on sax tear off a piece of Americana East Los Angeles style with this swinging record of good vibes, hard times, heartfelt soul, and quiet faith. Roots rock from Los Angeles by way of Mexico? You bet your beans.
Hailing from the barrios
of East Las Angeles, Los Lobos (or The Wolves) wouldn’t seem to be your quintessential rock & roll band on paper. Having made there way in the mid and late seventies playing Sweet Sixteen parties and backyard wedding receptions in the East L.A. district known as Boyle Heights, Los Lobos were very much a product of there Chicano
(or Mexican –American) roots, and that was reflected in their playing of traditional Mexican boleros
. But as is the case with many second and third generation Mexican–Americans, a good dose of American popular culture was also a part of their upbringing. And for Los Lobos that meant rock n roll. And with new bands busting down musical barriers of the past all around them, Los Lobos decided to follow suit and bust down some stereotypical barriers of their own. Never a group to wear big sombrero hats or play the mariachi circuit, Los Lobos had a wider view of what it meant to make traditional music, Mexican or otherwise. And with a vibrant new music scene in Los Angeles happening that included the likes of X, Black Flag, The Blasters, The Red Hot Chili Peppers, Fishbone, The Minutermen, and The Go-Gos among many others, Los Lobos, four Mexicans from East Los Angeles and a jewish guy from Philly on saxophone, decided to jump on the bandwagon and ride it for all it was worth.. How Will The Wolf Survive, Los Lobos major label debut is an everything and
the kitchen sink kind of recording that hints at the eclectic musical future of this band in it’s diverse musical stylings but is mostly just a 33 minute soulful rave-up of inspired R&B, soulful ballads, Mexican Pogues style traditionals, heartfelt roots rock, and a whole lot of hot sauce.
Things are jumping right from the start with the album opener Don’t Worry Baby,a charged up R&B rock n roll stomp that would be right at home on any Stevie Ray Vaughn or Fabulous Thunderbirds album if not for the rough and dangerous edge given by the foreboding lyrics of guitarist/songwriter/singer Cesar Rosas. Dont worry baby/What The world will bring/Don’t Worry baby/Wouldn’t change a thing/Life is a fight/And then you die, Rosas sings with authority while the band hammers out a steady rhythm behind him with just enough Tex-Mex flavor to season this spicy slab of jump style electric blues. Continuing down this soulful path for the next track, the plaintive and thoughtful Matter Of Time and the listener is struck right from the start by singer David Hildagos high sweet tenor as it leads the gentle music and tells the tale of a Mexican immigrant leaving his home to go north for work with promises to send for his loved ones to share in a better life. “Don’t worry about us here/We will be alright/And we’re all be together/Just a matter of time, his wife replies to his concerns. And the diversity and skill of this band is apparent right from the start. A song of faith and hope on par with anything Springsteen or Dylan have ever written, Matter Of Time is simply real life turned into song by a band who understands the hearts of it’s subjects. And those hearts are delivered in full by the compassionate vocals of Hildago and skillful heartfelt playing of the band.
With Rosas taking the reigns once again we are next treated to that Mexican Pogues style I mentioned earlier. Complete with accordion, bajo sexto, guitarron and a pumped up band, this english language tune wrapped in traditional Mexican clothing and infused with the energy and spirit of Jerry Lee Lewis, Little Richard, and the Sex Pistols, Corrido #1 will have you dancing on your living room carpet with a shot of tequila in your hand faster then Speedy Gonzales can fetch a taco. Blistering in pace, full of life, and musically authentic, this meld of rock n roll and traditional Mexican music is as good and as fluid as has been put out by any band at anytime during the last 30 years. Perhaps not original but simply done right
, with this cut The Wolves serve notice they are not your stereotypical band of big hat wearing mexicans from East L.A. but indeed a band who intends to break some new ground for themselves and others. Rather than sit out the new music party happening all around them, this is the sound of a band sitting in on it. And it’s a sweet sound indeed as the next track Our Last Night continues to prove. Going back to Hildago once again for vocal duties this track rocks smoothly and passionately from the very start with it’s rootsy style and countrified lap steel guitar, while bringing their guitars but also accordion, baja sexto, and guitarron to this classic break-up song. Feelings come and hearts are broken/Slipping through our hands/The ways of life and love I’ll never understand, Hildago sings. And although the lyrics are those that suggest a long overdue break-up the music is a celebration of Chicano
culture and musical flavor.
Stepping up the good time feel for what would be the beginning of side two on the then popular LP format, the rockabilly inspired rave up I Got Loaded comes cruising along next and continues to kick things up a notch as the album takes a celebratory turn. Full of singer David Hildagos smooth, clean electric guitar work and the tenor and baritone sax play of former Blaster Steve Berlin, I Got Loaded is the sound of American roots rock at its jumping best with its ready for Saturday night vibe and easy going style. And the good time sounds continue with the boogie style runaway tale Evangeline. Evangeline is on the road/Just barely 17 when she left home/Don’t know where she is or where she is going/She is the queen of make believe/Evangeline, Hildago croons while the band pumps out a cool, steady rhythm behind him. Not forgetting the mexicano
side of things for the second half we are also treated to the Rojas led tune Serenata Nortena (the only Spanish language track on the album) and equally spirited Mexican punkabilly of I Gotta Let You Know. And if Mexican punkabilly sounds unlikey, these wolves make it sound as natural as menudo on a Sunday morning. The food, not the bastardized group Ricky Martin sprang from. And closing the album on a perfect note we are finally treated to the folklorico
instrumental short Little King Of Everything and roots driven title track of Will The Wolf Survive, with it’s chiming jingle jangle guitars and story of a Mexican immigrant trying to make good on the run meeting with the story of young musicians doing the same. Different peoples, different lands, same search the song seems to suggest. And it’s a unifying message that ties this great set of music up with passion and grace.
How Will The Wolf Survive is not a groundbreaking album. The music on it for the most part had been done before. But seldom in the rock n roll era had the diverse styles of this album been brought together so seamlessly and with such a clear vision. By making an album from the inside out as great art is often made, Los Lobos were able to capture not just a moment in time in this celebration of music and life but also a place, a way of life, and the unmistakable voice of a generation past, present, and future. Sharing in the hopes, fears, and dreams of an entire people and going forward with a promising musical and lyrical message, How Will The Wolf Survive is a timeless album cut from the simplest cloth and sewn together in a colorful pattern that suits all shapes, sizes, and peoples who share common dreams and ambitions. And it’s a classic howl from the barrios
of East Los Angeles that translates for anyone anywhere with some hope in their pockets, faith in their hearts, and a bit of hardship ahead.