About the worst thing you can say about Los Lobos is that they might have gotten distracted for a couple of albums. 1992’s landmark Kiko was a near-perfect blend of the established Los Lobos sound—steeped in ‘50s and ‘60s rock and soul, incorporating elements of Hispanic culture—and something new and ethereal. With the help of Mitchell Froom and Tchad Blake, the songs on Kiko sounded like they always had two layers: one that was immediate and earthy, and one with just a shade of dreamy distance.
If you only know Los Lobos for their fluke movie soundtrack hit La Bamba, you owe it to yourself to get better acquainted with the Latin rock legends. Despite touring the world throughout the 80s and early 90s opening up for mainstream rock heavyweights like U2 and the Grateful Dead, they've always brought a surprising inventiveness and art to their Chicano blues formula. Factor in the daring avant-garde pop experiments of their Latin Playboys side project and you realize that their sole chart hit is by no means representative of their 37-year history.
Over the course of a recording career that's poised to enter its fourth decade, Los Lobos are a band who have never shied away from writing about folks struggling to make their way through hard times, and one might argue that in the wake of America's financial meltdown and a recession that won't seem to go away, the rest of the United States is starting to catch up with the East L. A. barrios that have been the locale of the group's most powerful songs.
Who says comfortable rockers can’t write convincingly about working stiffs from their old hoods? That doesn’t seem to be an issue for Los Lobos on Tin Can Trust: The barrio strivers throughout Trust are as vivid now as they were decades ago. Unfortunately, the characters are linked to somewhat generic roadhouse blues, even when it’s spiced with norteño and Colombian cumbia. It’s as if the band is content to just kick that tin can a little bit further down the road.
Kicking the same old can By now, Los Lobos qualify as a Los Angeles institution—but the problem with institutions is that they tend to produce predictable products. Tin Can Trust fits the mold David Hidalgo and company have constructed over the last 30 plus years—namely, blues-infused rock, with Hidalgo’s numerous solos serving as high points. The first half of Tin Can is upbeat enough, but the second half drags, rescued only by mid-tempo instrumental “Do the Murray” and the traditional Mexican arrangement of “Mujer Ingrata,” which break up the slow-blues monotony that threatens to overtake the album.
I’d hoped Los Lobos’s Tin Can Trust would be a continuation of all that was great about its predecessor, 2006’s The Town and the City, in which measured, slowly developing narratives were laid out carefully over chunky basslines and robust, layered percussion. But where that album seemed like a creative experiment, Tin Can Trust comes off as five musicians unceremoniously looking back at their impressive back catalogue. With its combination of acoustic rock, Spanish music, and mystical balladry, the album traverses all the styles Los Lobos has explored over the last 30 years—with a blues instrumental and a Grateful Dead cover perplexingly thrown in for good measure.
Lowdown lyrics meet guitar frazzle on the group’s latest long-player. Martin Longley 2010 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.