Independence Day is just around the corner. I’m not sure when Americana became a musical genre, but it doesn’t get any better than Los Lobos. What’s more American than a band consisting of four Latinos and a Jew?
I bought Los Lobos’ first major label album How Will The Wolf Survive? in 1984 based on a rave review in Rolling Stone magazine. I’ve never looked back.
The band is on its 50th anniversary tour right now. A truly impressive accomplishment, especially in a time when instability is commonplace.
I’m often surprised when otherwise musically literate people have only a passing familiarity with Los Lobos. They’re missing out on something special. Who else combines rock, conjunto, salsa, country, blues. soul, funk, and jazz so very well? You name it, they can play it.
I’ve decided to cheat with this list. June was Los Lobos month at Saturday Odds & Sods, so I’ve removed four songs from contention: The Neighborhood, Dream In Blue, Short Side Of Nothing, and Wicked Rain. At least two of those songs would have made the list, the same goes for One Time, One Night about which I wrote an essay for the America Is project.
That was a big cheat, which opens up space for some lesser-known songs. For lagniappe, I’ve done two half-dozens: Spanish language songs and cover versions. That’s the result of the Los Lobos bender I’ve been on since seeing them at Jazz Fest.
The list is arranged in chronological order and reflects my own taste such as it is.
Since Los Lobos are one of the best live bands I’ve ever seen, I’ve posted live versions after the studio originals. There’s no such thing as too much Los Lobos.
The majority of the songs were written by David Hidalgo and Louie Perez. I give Cesar Rosas a shout-out on his compositions. I love me some Cesar.
Enough with the rambling preamble, on with the show this is it.
Will The Wolf Survive? is one of many Los Lobos tunes about the immigrant experience. It’s the song that let me know this was a special band.
Evangeline: What’s not to love about a song with this as a lyrical refrain, “she was the queen of make believe, Evangeline.” It also features some of David Hidalgo’s most fluid guitar playing.
Cesar Rosas brings a blues rock sensibility to the Wolves: Set Me Free Rosa Lee is a fine example. Steve Berlin’s honking sax kicks the song into high gear. Let’s rock:
Emily is another Los Lobos song named for a name. The studio recording features vocals by Levon Helm and some fancy fiddling by David Hidalgo.
Angel Dance is one of the few songs that Los Lobos plays at most of their live gigs. Touring with the Grateful Dead was an eye opener for the band. They realized you don’t have to play the same set list every show. It’s one of the things that makes them such a great live band.
I Can’t Understand: Cesar Rosas loves working with his musical heroes. This blues rocker was co-written by the great Chicago blues man Willie Dixon:
Here’s a live medley with two swell songs for the price of one or some such shit:
I’ve already declared Kiko the band’s wolversterpice. Kiko and the Lavender Moon is the centerpiece of that album:
Reva’s House is a fun song with cool lyrics and stellar sax playing by Steve Berlin:
Can’t Stop The Rain is another rainy day anthem by Cesar Rosas. This one is closer to funk than the blues.
The Valley has a dreamy Crowded House-type feel to it. Trust me: That’s a compliment. The song was used in an episode of The Sopranos. It doesn’t get better than that.
Burn It Down is one of the best things Los Lobos has recorded in the 21st Century. The album version features backing vocals by Susan Tedeschi.
Los Lobos gets whimsical with Tin Can Trust live:
The observant among you may have noticed that I just linked to videos of each song. That’s what I’m doing with the two half-dozens that serve as lagniappe this week. This page is going to load slowly enough as it is.
Once again, the lists are arranged in chronological order.
The Spanish Language Half-Dozen:
The Covers Half-Dozen:
That was more lagniappe than you could shake a stick at it. Why you’d want to do that is beyond me.
The last word goes to Los Lobos as young wolves: Louie Perez, Steve Berlin, David Hidalgo, Conrad Lozano, and Cesar Rosas.