Never a band afraid to push their sound further, to try new things, Ozomatli has been developing their songs past the salsa-inspired, hip-hop-infused rock they played on their self-titled debut for a while now. On Don't Mess with the Dragon, they continue to do this, moving even further from the Latin music around which they formed and into R&B, ska, and rock riffs that often little resemble what the original group focused on. Not that the record is unrecognizable -- the previous ones had progressively moved in this direction, anyway -- but many of the songs on Dragon wouldn't be out of place on a Robert Randolph or even a No Doubt album. "City of Angels" uses horns and female backup singers to build up a strong soul groove, while "Here We Go" is practically reggaeton. Strangest of all, however, is "When I Close My Eyes," a punk-inflected pop song that hearkens back to the mid-'90s alternative scene. It's not that any of these tracks are bad: Ozomatli is comprised of talented enough musicians, and have been doing it for long enough now, that they're able to pretty much successfully pull off anything they try, but these songs move so far from the sociopolitical salsa on which they created themselves that it's almost hard to recognize them as from the same band. Sure, there are still some cuts that celebrate their Latin influences well -- "La Gallina," "La Segunda Mano," "Creo," "La Temperatura," for example -- but it almost seems as if they're so afraid of playing the same song over and over again (ironically enough, "La Temperatura" sounds a lot like "La Misma Cancion" off Ozomatli) that they don't let themselves truly do what they do best, fall into the groove that they know best. Sure, they're capable of everything they try out on Don't Mess with the Dragon, but capability alone doesn't always necessitate action.
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AllMusic Review by Marisa Brown