Los Lobos

The Ride

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Not counting compilations and live recordings, The Ride is the 11th album by East Los Angelinos Los Lobos. And in contrast to the rest of their hefty catalog, it stands as a wonderful anomaly on their shelf. First, it is an offering with loads of guests, from influences such as Richard Thompson, Garth Hudson, the Grateful Dead's famed lyricist Robert Hunter, R&B legend Bobby Womack, Latin garage-funk hero Little Willie G., gospel great Mavis Staples, and Tom Waits to contemporaries like Elvis Costello, Dave Alvin, Greg Leisz, Mitchell Froom, Martha Gonzales, Latin music statesman Rubén Blades, and rock en Español inventors Café Tacuba, and many more. These 13 tracks walk the razored edge between the band's wondrous amalgam of rock, blues, country, soul, and Latin folk and pop styles found on How Will the Wolf Survive? and The Neighborhood to the song fragmentation and studio experimentation that made records like Kiko and Colossal Head standouts. To this end, Los Lobos redo some of their nuggets There's a wonderfully gospelized read of "Matter of Time," with Costello, that adds a completely new meaning to the tune. Little Willie G.'s vocal on "Is This All There Is" digs deep into the tune for its gritty funk root and stretches it to the breaking point -- it's one of the strongest performances on the disc. But the medley of "Wicked Rain" from Kiko with Womack's "Across 110th Street," with the band in full stretch-out mode and Womack at the peak of his soul crooning powers, is the biggest surprise. Over eight minutes in length, the combination of the tunes is smooth and sweet, driven with acoustic guitars, a punched-up horn section, and Rev. Charles Williams' shimmering Rhodes and B-3 in the mix. But the new material, such as "Veganza de los Pelados," with Mexico City's Café Tacuba, is the meld of the two bands' quirky strengths. Los Lobos bring the mystic Latin groove and bluesy angularity of the guitar lines, while the Tacubas bring the big knotty beats and edgy power chords, stunning dynamics, and a sense of play. Likewise, "Ya Se Va," with Blades, is a perfect cocktail of Afro-Cuban son and mariachi. "Wreck of the Carlos Rey," with Thompson, pairs David Hidalgo with the British guitarist in a snaky moaning weave of Anglo folk and driving, minor-key bluesy rock. The meeting of the band and Staples on "Someday," with Williams on clavinet and Lonnie Jordan on B-3, is so fine and fluid that an entire album should be considered. Ultimately, with the possible exception of "Kitate," with Waits and Gonzales, which feels overindulgent and directionless, this record comes off like a dream, full of strength, vision, warmth, rhythms, textures, and a coming together of all of Los Lobos' various adventures in a solid coat of many colors. This is the culmination of 30 years, and as such, it is an album that pays tribute as well as points to the next, and walks the narrow path between playful adventurousness and tuneful accessibility with ragged elegance and swaggering confidence.

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