Lowdown lyrics meet guitar frazzle on the group’s latest long-player.
Martin Longley 2010-07-28
Nearly all of the songs herein are Los Lobos originals, featuring various combinations of songwriting from David Hidalgo, Cesar Rosas and Louie Pérez. They sing two songs in Spanish, but the English efforts inevitably sound more like mainline North American rock by comparison. The Spanish pair (both penned by Rosas) lend more of an individualist flavour, at least to non-Hispanic ears. Then again, this is not a band attempting to connect with a world music audience.
The opening Burn It Down piles up country vocal harmonies over a strumming guitar weave, with blueswoman Susan Tedeschi guesting. The guitar solos are layered, usually jumping out of the left and right speakers with a simultaneous attack. Near-psychedelic phasing is set beside a 1950s twang. For a song with such nihilistic sentiments, it sounds rather resigned, until the final seething guitar solo makes its entrance.
It soon becomes apparent that a mood of steadfast firmness, a sustained state of laidback-ness, will dominate this disc. The guitar solos are always kept brief, for maximum clarity and attack, scratching and scribbling with targeted intent. Scraps of found environmental background noise periodically emerge from the combo's chugging wall of sound. Steve Berlin’s organ and saxophone layering provides a crucial embellishment.
The title-track is a prime example of the album’s dominant pace: downbeat and sluggish. Its words might deal with a penniless despondency, but the band’s triple-guitar threat can always be relied upon to instil a fiery feeling. This relationship stands for the entire disc: lowdown lyrics meet guitar frazzle.
On Jupiter or the Moon, the guitars emulate trains passing across a distant plain, with synth and piano simultaneously colouring the horizon. Do the Murray is an instrumental barroom interlude, soon followed by The Grateful Dead's rambling West LA Fadeaway. The Dead's chief poet Robert Hunter also co-writes All My Bridges Burning, refreshing the wave of pessimistic existentialism.
The words throughout veer towards abstraction, allowing listeners to easily insert their own life experiences. A fatalistic aura pervades, a mood of timeless non-specificity. Even though the closing 27 Spanishes has more of a lyrical bite, it's still not particularly direct, ending up flashing a wry smile.
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