The cover art of this collection of (mostly) cover songs says it all: the five veteran members of Los Lobos standing in silhouette on an East L.A. overlook; the downtown skyline in the distance to their left; the setting sun just above the ocean’s horizon to their right. The band tying the connective soundtrack between the City of Angels and the sea.
This letter of affection to Southern California-spawned songs, near and dear to the hometown boys from Whittier Blvd., comes alive on the opening “Love Special Delivery,” tipping the hat to local ‘60s stalwarts, Thee Midnighters, immediately bringing back the heat of fast cars and flying fringe skirts. The 13-track journey around town culminates with “Where Lovers Go,” a Chicano soul classic from ’65, and a reliable closer from the early days when Lobos was an ambitious group working the wedding circuit. Yet, in between, this conscientious homage to the quintet’s roots is no nostalgia trip. Instead, it’s a proper and present Los Lobos album in all but authorship.
Indeed, the enduring band from East L.A. is taking a deliberate strut down its lane of memories, stopping to check in with influences ranging from starships Stephen Stills, Jackson Browne, and The Beach Boys to personal heroes such as Lalo Guerrero (on “Los Chucos Suaves”) or Don Harris and Dewey Terry (on “Farmer John”). It’s also attacking each tribute the same way it delivers the new original track, “Native Son;” with a guitar-helmed, united front that appreciates subtle melodic, harmonic, and poetic nuances as much as it lights the backyard barbeque.
Los Lobos has never been a band to time-stamp its work. If anything, the ensemble has written and performed its vast repertoire always as in-the-moment expressions. Decades old or newly drafted, cover or original, once in the hands and voices of these five the music becomes property of the wolves.