Since bursting out of East Los Angeles over 30 years ago, Los Lobos has established itself as a genuine American musical institution. Its timeless melding of classic ‘50s and ‘60s rock and soul with deep Chicano roots is delivered with a smooth, almost R&B touch that has long defined its sound. Los Lobos’ genius is not in the way its strips music down to reveal its influences, but in the way it stirs those influences to create a sound that is wholly its own.
When it hits the perfect mix of widely divergent influences, the results are stunning – 1984’s Will the Wolf Survive?, 2002’s Good Morning Aztlan, and 1992’s Kiko are all true rock masterpieces. Kiko, in particular, stands out for its perfect blend of all things Los Lobos, while highlighting the band’s understated nature. For a band with such an impressive a catalog, it still seems to operate under the radar.
Los Lobos’ latest, Tin Can Trust, easily stands shoulder to shoulder with those aforementioned masterpieces. Keeping in line with the hushed power of 2006’s The Town and the City, Tin Can Trust has less full-on rock and more moody atmospherics. But this suits the veteran band just fine; like wine, they seem to be getting better with age. David Hidalgo and Cesar Rosas offer potent guitar lines, but now with a restrained authority. Steve Berlin’s sax seems to be dropped in at just the right moment every time. And has there ever been a more comforting rhythm section then bassist Conrad Lozano and drummer Louie Perez?
While there is proof evident of the band’s genius all over Tin Can Trust – the stately sound of opening track “Burn it Down,” the elegant Spanish-language “Yo Canto” and “Mujer Ingrata,” and the sweet perfection of “Jupiter or The Moon” – Los Lobos’ genius never shines as bright as it does on their reading of The Grateful Dead’s “West L.A. Fadeaway.” Los Lobos, who has longed professed a love for the Dead, prove a perfect fit for the song. Berlin’s sax drops in like a Phil Lesh bass-bomb, and Hidalgo and Rosas’ guitars deftly imbue a sublime mastery, creating the perfect musical landscape for a song about the grittier side of life in their hometown.
Within those seven minutes and four seconds of “West L.A. Fadeaway,” Los Lobos plays like only it can, perfectly mixing up all of its influences and 30 years into a sweet sound that can only be described as Los Lobos, an American musical institution.
Tin Can Trust is out now on Shout! Factory.