December 1, 2021

Los Lobos – ‘Native Sons’ – “a love letter to the variety of Los Angeles”

NEW WEST RECORDS 30 July 2021

Los Lobos have been a band for nearly fifty years, yet their last few albums have been amongst my favourites. There is an energy and punch that belies the years. Of course, there is the usual mix of styles; this is a band from East LA; Blues, Rock and Roll, Mexican, all sorts. They’ve built up a cult following thanks to excellent live shows, astute covers (covering ‘Bertha’ grabbed them a lot of Deadheads) and reliability. Here they return to their roots and present a set of covers, many so obscure that you might think they are originals, but all bound together by coming from the city of the angels.

Take the opener, ‘Love Special Delivery’ – speedy and sporty – a bubbling bass, punchy horns and organ for colour. It has a tinge of the Sixties British Invasion to it. It’s a cover of Thee Midniters, an East L.A. garage band. There is a straight medley of ‘Bluebird’ and ‘For What It’s Worth’ by Buffalo Springfield, which is better known by the chorus: “Stop children, what’s that sound, everybody look what’s going down.” ‘Los Chucos Suave’ is a bouncy fun rhumba that you’ve never heard before but will wish you had. ‘Jamaica Say You Will’ is a well-known ballad from Jackson Browne, composed up in the hills, while ‘Never No More’ is a swinging jive that bursts with energy. I’m most used to Neil Young & Crazy Horse smashing up Farmer John as a distorted Garage grunge but here it is a fast blitz of punky energy.

‘Dichoso’ is another obscurity unless you have Latin blood, a gentle Latin sunny wander. ‘Sail, On Sailor’ may be more familiar – one of Brian Wilson & Van Dyke Parks’ masterpieces but it lacks the exquisite harmonies of The Beach Boys. War get a look in with ‘The World Is A Ghetto’, a psych-soul ballad that could have come from Motown. Back to obscurity for a cover of The Blasters’ ‘Flat Top Joint’, taking us back to the eighties Rockabilly revival. The Jaguars’ 1965 ‘Where Lovers Go’ is an obscure track in an obscure band’s catalogue, a dreamy instrumental released when the band was at the end of a not very successful doo-wop career, played with loving solos and garage deep fuzz to sing us out.

The one non-cover is ‘Native Son’; a Los Lobos original that serves as a bluesy loping love letter to warm days full of music playing everywhere around L.A. in that eternal sunshine. And perhaps this mix of deep cuts covers and hits is the point – Los Angeles, across its sprawling district and very different areas, pumps out a vast range of musics and much of that is reflected in the institution of Los Lobos.