Time is Elastic (09/17/99)
Los Lobos, This Time (Hollywood Records 1999) - Now 25 years into a deliberate (and deliberative) career, Los Lobos remain one of America's premier (and most underappreciated) bands. With This Time (their 10th album), Los Lobos shows that its distinctive blend of roots, blues, and tejano is an American classic.
Los Lobos was founded by David Hildago, Cesar Rosas, Louie Perez, and Conrad Lozano, who met as students at Garfield High in East L.A. Save for the addition of Steve Berlin, a Philadelphia-born saxophonist, the original Los Lobos lineup has remained unchanged.
Los Lobos achieved renown in the early 80s, along with Dave Alvin's Downey-based band, the Blasters. After steady critical acclaim, Los Lobos found (unwanted) commercial success with their soundtrack to the film La Bamba, about the life and early death of Ritchie Valens.
Los Lobos quickly retreated to their traditional roots before teaming in the 90s with producers Mitchell Froom and Tchad Blake. The new pairing led to Kiko (1992), one of the best albums of the decade, followed by 1996's Colossal Head.
This Time finds Los Lobos with their feet in the streets of East L.A. and their heads in the stratosphere, forging a unique and cross-cultural blend of musical styles and idioms, while also freely experimenting with new studio sounds and techniques. As one critic explains, "Los Lobos do fusion like nobody else, twisting a tangle of influences into tightly wound explorations of sound and rhythm that are genuinely electric."
There is no middle ground with this band: fans are rabid, while others sit on the sideline. This Time demands that you stand up; from the burning guitar of "Viking" to the Latino dance groove of "High Places" to the barrio swing of "Cumbia Raza."
While the band members have other creative diversions - David Hidalgo and Louie Perez play with Froom and Blake in the Latin Playboys, and Cesar Rosas has his own band - Los Lobos remain a powerful creative force, albeit one that is not easily assimilated.
Explains Perez, "The kids know who we are but still want their rap and hip-hop. The older Chicano audience wants to hear the more traditional stuff instead of our experiments. We're in the same predicament we were in 17 years ago, when we first made the trip across the L.A. River to play punk clubs. We're not going to please everybody all the time, but I think we're still held in a special place."
Special place indeed. This Time is another outstanding release from Los Lobos, and deserves widespread acclaim.
Marty Stuart, The Pilgrim (MCA Nashville 1999) - Country traditionalist and ace guitar player Marty Stuart stretches on his twelfth release, The Pilgrim, a 20-track slice of country and Americana.
According to Stuart, The Pilgrim is a based on a true story of love lost and requited. I confess: I can't easily trace the story in the lyrics, and needed the well-written press materials to understand the album. (Like The Man From God Knows Where by Tom Russell, the press materials are an essential addition to the album, and are an essential addition to the liner notes.)
Stuart says the album took three years to complete, beginning with a session in Memphis at the home of famed Sun Records. Explains Stuart, "That place is always ground zero for me. When I'm looking for a new groove I go to Memphis. It has soul and it offers a musical freedom that can't be found anywhere else."
The album contains a variety of styles: drinking songs ("Sometimes the Pleasure's Worth the Pain"), black hat country ("Hobo's Prayer"), and Kansas City rockabilly ("Going Nowhere Fast").
Stuart's recording efforts also took him to California, where he recorded with guitarist Mike Campbell from Tom Petty's band. Explains Stuart, "I flew out to California with the specific purpose of writing a jukebox anthem with him. 'Draggin' Around These Chains of Love' is what we came up with."
Stuart continues: "I live the outer edge of country music. It's amazing the people you bump into out there . . . dreams do come true. I fell in love with country music when I was five years old by way of two albums: The Fabulous Johnny Cash and Flatt & Scruggs' Greatest Hits. My dream was to meet them. I got to. It turns out that the only two steady jobs I've had since 1972 were with Lester Flatt and Johnny Cash."
The album constantly changes gears, as the flashy country instrumental pop of "Outro" segues into a spoken-word piece by Johnny Cash, followed by "Mr. John Henry, Steel Drivin' Man," a bluegrass duet with Earl Scruggs.
The Pilgrim forges brave territory for a Nashville release. Ranging far from the safe confines of country sound, the new album will both frustrate and attract fans (I think the album would get a better reception if listeners had access to the complete background information). Take a sojourn with The Pilgrim.
Leon Huff, Here to Create Music (Right Stuff 1980/1999) - Leon Huff, one-half of the Gamble and Huff production team that powered the Philadelphia International sound, is a musical enigma to many. Here to Create Music marks his only solo album, which remains a solid slice of soulful R&B.
Born in 1942 in New Jersey, Leon Huff started out as a session pianist, and first worked with partner Kenny Gamble with the Romeos in 1965. The production and song-writing team of Gamble and Huff soon began churning out hits for such acts as Wilson Pickett and Dusty Springfield before forming the influential Philadelphia International Records.
Yet by 1980, the creative burst that fueled Philly International was in eclipse, leading to the recording of Here to Create Music. Clocking in at 35 minutes, the album includes such smooth tracks as "Tight Money" and "Tasty," as well as the club favorite, "I Ain't Jivin', I'm Jammin.'"
While the album included such guest artists as Stevie Wonder (harmonica on "No Greater Love") and Eddie Levert and Walter Williams (from the O'Jays), Huff's vocals and piano and organ playing are the underpinning of Here to Create Music.
Long out of print, and largely ignored upon its release, Here to Create Music shows Leon Huff in a light different from his work at Philly International - as a solo performer, rather than as part of the hit-making machine he helped build. For those who enjoy soulful, groove-oriented jams, you won't be disappointed.
- Randy Krbechek © 1999
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