If a review is perceived as a means of persuading or providing incentive, then let’s keep this simple: Los Lobos’ Gates of Gold is an album fans new, old, and otherwise should most certainly have in their collection. Sample the clips on the websites of music merchants if corroboration of this suggestion is needed. The same conclusion- that this record is one to get- will be there waiting.
Self-produced by the band, Gates of Gold is the first studio set in five years from the quintet out of East L.A. and represents all that the wolves do really well. Track to track, it swells with traditional acoustic styling, homages to Chicago blues, inspiration from Hendrix and Helm, cumbias and ballads, carried by a momentum that absorbs these various influences and recalibrates them into songs sounding immediately and only like Los Lobos. So easy to take it for granted from a group that has been doing it for over four decades, the eleven cuts are fresh and thoughtfully composed, aurally engaging, at times hypnotically melodic and emotionally resonating.
The lead-off, “Made to Break Your Heart,” shadows strummed acoustics down into a slowed tempo and an abyss of electric guitar, resurfacing neatly back where it started. It’s followed by “When We Were Free,” a highlight of the set, with particularly minimalist moments from Steve Berlin’s sax, baring a sonic splendor of simplicity. Guitarist Cesar Rosas unlocks the cage on “Mis-Treater Boogie Blues,” the Windy City shuffle sounding like it was caught in mid-whirlwind. Past-midnight soul drips out of the self-possessed “There I Go,” prelim to “Too Small Heart,” which rides on riffs on loan from the Jimi Hendrix playbook- more potions for the spells of David Hidalgo and Rosas as guitar magi.
Skirting Mexicali rhythms drive “Poquito Para Aqui,” before the title track, unrolling like a lost Levon Helm classic, peers into an inquisitive view of the hereafter. Accordion exhales shade Francisco Vidal’s “La Tumba Sera El Final,” then the persisting “Song of the Sun.” The album closes on a congruent pair, like two sides of the same coin; the fuzzy, 12-bar blues of “I Believed You So” and its Tex-Mex modern counterpart “Magdalena,” each showing the elucidations of the genre as offered by Rosas and the Hidalgo/Louie Perez duo, respectively.
As Gates of Gold is the next entry etched in the history of Los Lobos, it merits a spot up high. Self-assured and patient, loosely immaculate in all the right ways, this is a record whose accomplishment really shouldn’t surprise. It’s what Los Lobos has always done.