New West Records
Los Lobos is getting close to celebrating its 50th Anniversary – and without any line-up changes too. This band continues, this band endures – so crucial to its secret has been the live shows. So when Covid put paid to that, the group started plotting this tribute record, this love-letter to L.A.
I was a little worried when I first heard the material – this band doesn’t make bad records, but I wondered if it might seem a little flat, the early singles pointed to the most obvious material. The rendition of The Beach Boys’ Sail On, Sailor was so faithful as to seem redundant. But in the context of the album it’s just a showcase for what the group can do, and a shoutout to an influence. Because this album is all over the map, pulling from all directions – as this group always has to make its own music. And helping to piece together the diversity of Los Angeles’ music.
The ‘safe’ choices are all fine and mostly great here – Sailor, and Buffalo Springfield’s For What It’s Worth and Jackson Browne’s Jamaica Say You Will. But the record really comes alive through covers of Percy Mayfield (Never No More) and garage rock via the Blasters (Flat Top Joint) and Don & Dewey (Farmer John) and the kinship of these songs makes for an intriguing musical reunion; this might be a strange family on paper but line them all up and you can spot the same chin.
Sentimental balladry (The Jaguars’ Where Lovers Go, Willie Bobo’s Dichoso) hints at the band’s own best Latina roots weepies. And they even often one original song – the title track – midway through the record. It’s somehow an encapsulation of nearly everything you hear on this record, a bit juke-joint, a wee bit barn-dance, rock’n’roll and R’n’B and a waft of zydeco too.
The band pieced this together from separate locations over lockdown, and whilst everything about it could suggest stopgap – the nature of the recording, the fact it’s mostly covers, the debuting on a new label – it really captures the lithe spirit of this phenomenal band at their very best and most alive.
Then there are the real standouts – the War jam, The World Is A Ghetto, so perfect for David Hidalgo and Cesar Rosas to lay back into and build a slow-boiling funky stew; Buffalo Springfield’s Bluebird which, here, feels like a song Los Lobos have always been on their way to writing – perhaps the best compliment you can pay of a well-chosen cover; and Misery by Money songwriter Barrett Strong which almost feels like if Robert Cray went 60s psychedelic-pop.
It’s so nice to hear these ideas bursting through – the seamless changes of style, amalgams of styles – and to just bask in the abilities of this band. One of the very best. Surprisingly, I guess, Native Sons feels – almost instantly – like one of their very best albums, hopefully a real rejuvenator as its been a decade since their last true-fire set of originals.