Can Los Lobos trump previous successes like ‘Kiko’ after a five-year studio break, not to mention over forty years together?
‘Los Lobos remains…’ affirms the booklet. That’s alright then, so far so good. But they seem to have set themselves a major task with Gates Of Gold – to tell the tale of the American immigrant reflecting their favourite musical influences in 11 tracks. Writing songs of consistent quality to fit predetermined criteria has tested even the best: to do it within the confines of one CD would seem impossible. Even Randy Newman would have paused.
The most successful songs, musically, on Gates Of Gold are those where the influences are not so easy to detect. Made To Break Your Heart, with its beguiling chord and tempo changes behind David Hidalgo’s sonorous vocals and pleading guitar; When We Were Free with its jazz-tinged cinematic sweep and the closing track Magdalena. Some of the songs that flaunt their heritage more openly also have a life of their own: Too Small Heart has a riff that Jimi Hendrix would have killed for, and the mandolin-driven title track perfectly evokes the plodding wagon trail pioneers and their search for those gates of gold. However, songs like Mis-Treater Boogie Blues and I Believed You So say nothing more than has already been said by ZZ Top and countless bar room blues bands.
Lyrically, Gates Of Gold meets with more success. Louie Perez (usually the band’s wordsmith) has a feel for the spiritual throb that underlies the crust of life and he has a light poetical touch when putting these observations to work. This, when delivered by David Hidalgo’s haunting vocal, lends a transcendent quality to their songs. When We Were Free, There I Go, Gates Of Gold and Magdalena are cases in point.
Gates Of Gold is no Kiko, it’s not even a Tin Can Trust, but it still has its moments. Some of the endings are a bit perfunctory and there is a mysterious dearth of Steve Berlin’s quirky baritone sax and keyboard lines which helped raise the game on the previous releases. That said, with their latest offering, Los Lobos still manage to enthral, thrill and toss in a few surprises. The continued musical enjoyment in each others company still comes across. Even when they have nothing new to say this joyousness still shines through.
Verdict: Inconsistency stops this from being one of their finest, but there are still some sublime moments