Wolf Tracks: The Best Of Los Lobos

Los Lobos

Rhino, 2006


REVIEW BY: Jason Warburg


There are many ways to measure the impact of a band, but for those with two decades or more in the game and a fan base that's much deeper than it is wide, there's one measure that's almost become a gold standard for gauging lasting musical value -- when Rhino issues a career-spanning collection of your music.

Next up on Rhino's list is Los Lobos, a.k.a. East LA's house band. For 30 years, Los Lobos has melded Mexican traditionals with American roots-rock like no one since their musical idol Ritchie Valens, and has never been content to stop there, drawing from country, blues, r&b, folk and Tex-Mex influences as the mood struck them.

In a rare accomplishment for a "best-of" collection, this album neatly, succinctly and effectively traces the band's broad artistic arc, from their Spanish-language-only debut through their roots-rock love affair, into the La Bamba years and then on to the vivid experimentalism found on the remarkable my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250 Kiko - Colossal Head - This Time trilogy. Throughout you're treated to the welcome contrast between David Hidalgo's sweet, rich tenor (he stood in nicely for Valens on the La Bamba soundtrack cuts) and Cesar Rosas' more rumbly roadhouse style, the two vocalist/guitarist/songwriters teaming with Conrad Lozano (bass), Steve Berlin (sax) and Louie Perez (drums & songwriting) to form one of the most steadfast and musically multifarious units of their time.

"Let's Say Goodnight" makes for a perfect opener, south-of-the-border accordion leading off the melody and soloing between "let's-go-to-the-hop" verses in a stylistic mash-up that works deliriously well. The highlights that follow include the spot-on "girl-done-me-wrong" swing of "Evangeline," the gritty barroom stomp of "Shakin' Shakin' Shakes," the Spanish-language sing-along of live cut "Volver, Volver," the beefy Tex-Mex highlight reel of "Good Morning Aztlan," and the mescaline Elvis burrito that is "That Train Don't Stop Here."

Still, the Lobos' amazing range doesn't get much clearer than the brilliant juxtaposition of the acoustic, Spanish-language new traditional "La Pistola Y El Corazon" and the electric, gospel-tinged rock and roll of "Jenny's Got A Pony" (complete with accordion accents). The fact that it all hangs together like a rich gumbo is nothing less than the miraculous essence of this band.

Capping things off, Rhino's typically informative liner notes (by Chris Morris of The Hollywood Reporter) provide an effective summation of the Lobos' journey. While Wolf Tracks can't hope to capture the entire story of a group this musically inquisitive and long-lived -- you need to buy the albums for that -- this is a package that's well worthy of Los Lobos, and the perfect pickup for the casual fan or curious bystander, who will likely be blown away by the sheer musical diversity to be found here.

Rating: A-

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© 2006 Jason Warburg and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Rhino, and is used for informational purposes only.