The Iguanas

Plastic Silver 9-Volt Heart

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On their fifth album since 1993, New Orleans' Iguanas swing even closer to the Latin/Mexican Los Lobos sound they have referenced previously. The more prominent yet still bubbling-under percussion and a low-boil, near ominous feel on tracks like "Mexican Candy" can easily be mistaken for East L.A.'s Lobos. This album could be the Iguanas' Kiko, with the band's two saxes wrapping around these tracks and enveloping them with a smoldering yet smooth R&B flavor. Although there are a few upbeat rockers like "Zacatecas" and "I Dig You," the disc exudes a more meditative and layered vibe. The title track, "9 Volt Heart," co-written with fan/friend Dave Alvin, is a lovely ballad, similar to Alvin's "Border Radio," about the titular transistor radio and its part in the formative years of the singer. Arguably the album's best tune, it's their "Night Moves," a defining coming-of-age tale that encompasses most of the band's strengths in less than four minutes. The same holds for "The First Kiss Is Free," a seven-minute tour de force whose warm rootsy approach and near cinematic lyrics will have listeners returning to the tune to bask in its floating, pulsating glow and lovely Santana-styled guitar solo. Rod Hodges' vocals are warm, soulful, conversational, and believable, while the group's performance is the most affecting and mature of its career. The subtle production provides a burnished glow perfect for the band's simmering, often swampy groove. There are simply no weak tracks, and even though they aren't rocking out as forcefully as before, this is a striking album that catches a polished band gracefully and stylishly shifting into middle age.

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