Los Lobos

Sí Se Puede!

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While conventional wisdom has long held that Los Lobos launched their recording career with the 1978 album Del Este de Los Angeles (Just Another Band from East L.A.), it turns out they had actually made a little-known record two years earlier. In 1976, producer Art Brambila was putting together an album of songs honoring labor organizer and activist Cesar Chavez, and Brambila chose Los Lobos, then a local Mexican folk combo, to be the backing band for the project, accompanying a variety of vocalists doing songs celebrating Chavez's accomplishments, the struggle of farm workers, and Chicano pride. Sí Se Puede! was the result, and it documents Los Lobos when they were still primarily a folk ensemble, before they embraced the more eclectic sound that first popped up on 1983's ...And a Time to Dance. Anyone who has heard Del Este de Los Angeles or 1988's La Pistola y el Corazón knows Los Lobos were an uncommonly good folk ensemble, but in this case Los Lobos are the backing band on most tracks, providing passionate and expert accompaniment but staying out of the way of the guest vocalists, most of whom deliver fine and impassioned work, especially Carmen Moreno, Raul Bambila, and Geree Gonzalez. (And as one might expect, nearly all the vocals on Sí Se Puede! are in Spanish.) Los Lobos do take the lead on one cut, "Telingo Lingo," and it allows a bit more of their personality to shine through, but ultimately Sí Se Puede! is a flashback to the group's earliest days as working musicians, and while this is often strong and inspiring music (and a genuinely heartfelt tribute to Chavez and his brave work), it might feel a bit pro forma for fans used to the ambitious reach of this band's best recordings; if the question is, "Is this the same band that made Kiko?," the honest answer is "No, not yet."

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