How Did the Wolf Survive?

The 40-plus-year songwriting tandem of multi-instrumentalist David Hidalgo’s tune wielding and Louie Perez’s wonderous way with words, wood, and wire, have hit an indescribable stride. Toss in the writing of lone wolf and fellow axe grinder (mandolinist, too) Cesar Rosas; the true cool of Steve Berlin’s horn, keyboard, and harp prowess; instant indie/punk credibility of David Hidalgo, Jr. (Social Distortion, Chuck Ragan and the Camaraderie)  on the skins; an appearance from saxophonist Rob Crowell (Deer Tick, Diamond Rugs), and Conrad Lozano’s ass-shakin’ low end theories, and you have one of the best records of 2015, hands down.

Hidalgo’s voice is as American as baseball, apple pie, and the bajo sexto, to my ears. There's comfort to be found in his slightly held-back croon, which blends not only melodies but emotional spitfire. It’s something I’ve grown up hearing and hope to grow older listening to. I’m done with the growing up part though. There’s no fun in that shit.Gates of Gold is a blessed union of jammy blues, straight-outta-the-garage ass-splitting rock and roll, some beautifully melodic traditional Mexican romps, and a smattering of Latin Cumbia and Spanish chord progressions. This concoction has been coined “the soundtrack of the barrio.”

How do you top an indelible 40th anniversary live album, three Grammy’s, and a worldwide smash rock hit while the rest of the world was wrapped up in synthesizers and drum machines? Evidently withGates of Gold. (Yes, this is the band that sang “La Bamba” from the movie. Chances are if you had to ask that question you wouldn’t be reading or perusing No Depression anyhow.)

Los Lobos has earned respect from blues geeks, Deadheads, pop idiots, Latino and world beat aficionados, and the list goes on. They’re artists' artists, but folks who need to be force-fed art can even gather appreciation. 

From the progressive percussion-filled, garage rock of album opener “Made to Break Your Heart” and its extended guitar work, right into the laidback street jazz of the Hidalgo/Perez-penned “When We Were Free,” it's clear that Gates of Gold is not going to be a textbook, predictable sonic journey. It’s assuredly time to buckle up for the next eight audible delicacies, or at least tie up your drool catcher. Those two are quickly followed by a scorching Rosas number “Mis-Treater Boogie Blues,” which quickly pulls back in that classic Los Lobos bluesy rock sound. Rosas lets loose on hellfire in the form of a guitar solo. The lo-fi beauty of “There I Go” showcases the funky drumming of Hidalgo, Jr.

"I Believed You So," the traditional bounce of “Poquito Para Aqui,” and the lone cover of Francisco Vidal’s “La Tumba Sera El Final” are a few of the quintessential Los Lobos record oddities that quickly became my favorites. Gates Of Gold is precious meddle from start to finish and back again.

What remains is pure American rock and roll by one of the greatest and most underrated American bands of our musical landscape.Gates of Gold is slated for a September 25 release on Savoy/429 Records and is guaranteed to be the soundtrack of your Indian Summer. It's also a shoe-in for my obligatory “best of list” for 2015.

(+words: scott zuppardo+)

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(As originally featured at No Depression 9/17/15)