Los Lo­bos re­turn to their roots

For more than a third of a cen­tury, L.A. roots rock­ers Los Lo­bos have pushed bound­aries with mu­sic

Austin American-Statesman - - FRONT PAGE - By Randy lewis

LOS AN­GE­LES — David Hi­dalgo stood on a con­crete load­ing dock out­side the tiny record­ing stu­dio where he and the other mem­bers of Los Lo­bos were work­ing fever­ishly on the fi­nal track for their new al­bum, “Tin Can Trust.”

On this lovely spring af­ter­noon, the band’s beefy singer, gui­tarist, ac­cor­dion­ist and com­poser soaked up the sights and sounds sur­round­ing him in the East L.A. neigh­bor­hood where the roots-rock group had set­tled in to make its lat­est record. As the sun set, cars whizzed past, an ice cream truck trun­dled down the road play­ing a jingling ver­sion of Brahms’ Lul­laby and con­struc­tion work­ers wrapped up their day at the de­mo­li­tion yard across the street.

Hi­dalgo smiled as he men­tioned how com­fort­ing it was to see a street ven­dor pe­ri­od­i­cally strolling the side­walk with his push­cart stocked with fresh corn on the cob.

“The old neigh­bor­hood — it’s good,” Hi­dalgo, 55, said dur­ing a break in record­ing “The Lady and the Rose,” the song that would com­plete their forth­com­ing al­bum.

Three dozen years and more than a dozen al­bums into its ca­reer, a band could be for­given for pur­su­ing the most re­laxed, most com­fort­able way to make a new record. But from the early ex­u­ber­ance of its 1983 EP, “… and a time to dance,” to the mu­si­cal and sonic so­phis­ti­ca­tion of 2006’s “The Town and the City,” Los Lo­bos has long strived to push it­self, and its mu­sic, to new places, and that’s no ex­cep­tion for “Tin Can Trust,” which will be re­leased Aug. 3.

By re­turn­ing to the part of town that gave birth to the group in 1973 to make the new al­bum, the mem­bers have re­con­nected with some of the qual­i­ties that first brought them to­gether. At the top of the list: the sheer joy of play­ing to­gether, and the chal­lenge of bring­ing the val­ues they cher­ish into songs that help il­lu­mi­nate their ex­pe­ri­ences, good and bad, as they move through life.

“On Main Street,” one of a half­dozen new songs Hi­dalgo wrote with band­mate Louie Perez, cel­e­brates the com­mu­nity they grew up in:

Noth­ing bet­ter than run­ning down the boule­vard Get­ting a lit­tle dirt on my shoes With my broth­ers and sis­ters hang­ing all around Chas­ing away all of my blues The blues are never too far away, as they note in the ti­tle song, which out­lines and em­pathizes with strug­gles of those who live hand-to-mouth. He con­cludes the lyric with the re­al­ity that “All in all I ain’t got/ Ain’t got much in a tin can trust.”

Barely 48 hours ear­lier, Hi­dalgo had walked into the stu­dio with just a chord pro­gres­sion in his head.

Con­tin­ued from D

He be­gan strum­ming the haunt­ing riff on a Gretsch 12-string elec­tric gui­tar.

A new song? “I hope so,” he said, ac­knowl­edg­ing the mys­ter­ies of the cre­ative process. Sax­o­phon­ist and multi-in­stru­men­tal­ist Steve Ber­lin ex­plained that as they were putting fin­ish­ing touches on the 10 tracks they’d pre­vi­ously recorded, the band mem­bers de­cided the al­bum should have one more song.

Al­though the band has av­er­aged a new al­bum only ev­ery three or four years, Los Lo­bos has toured heav­ily and sup­ple­mented the stu­dio al­bums with a se­ries of live record­ings. The var­i­ous mem­bers have also kept them­selves busy with var­i­ous side projects, in­clud­ing the Latin Play­boys, the Tex-Mex su­pergroup Los Su­per Seven, some duo re­leases by Hi­dalgo and Perez, a solo al­bum from gui­tarist-singer-song­writer Ce­sar Rosas and nu­mer­ous one-off con­tri­bu­tions to other artists’ works.

Con­rad Lozano, hear­ing the mu­sic for “The Lady and the Rose” for the first time, promptly joined in as Hi­dalgo strummed the cir­cu­lar chord pat­tern. He grabbed his Fender bass, slid­ing the fin­gers of his left hand deftly up the gui­tar’s neck with liq­uid pas­sages that helped pro­pel those chords along.

“I’m just look­ing for some­thing that fits,” said Lozano, look­ing more like a vet­eran high school foot­ball coach in his loose-fit­ting T-shirt and shorts than a mem­ber of one of L.A.’s most es­teemed rock bands. “I’ll keep try­ing un­til I find some­thing that feels right.”

Ad­junct per­cus­sion­ist Cougar Estrada be­gan ex­per­i­ment­ing with some mil­i­tary march like rhythms on his drum kit, then set­tled into a big, crush­ing back­beat like a for­mi­da­ble Aztec war­rior on a ram­page.

By the fol­low­ing af­ter­noon, the ba­sics of the mu­si­cal track were in place. Then it was Perez’s job to come up with lyrics for Hi­dalgo to sing, which he planned to bring to the stu­dio the day be­fore their dead­line for fin­ish­ing the al­bum.

“I’ll be hon­est,” he said. “I went home and I made ev­ery pos­si­ble ex- cuse not to get to work. So I sat there last night and thought, ‘What is the song?’ It had an eth­nic kind of thing to it. I’m sit­ting right there in front of the com­puter I share with my wife, and I no­tice she had this lit­tle book, a novena (nine-day prayer) to Our Lady of Guadalupe. I looked at it and thought, ‘Hmm … The story of Juan Diego and the Vir­gin of Guadalupe is a pretty good story.’ And that’s what I wrote.”

Af­ter Perez shared the freshly minted lyrics, Hi­dalgo did a bit of stalling of his own, say­ing that the hard­est, most daunt­ing part of the process for him is sing­ing. “Can I get you any­thing, Dave?” en­gi­neer Shane Smith asked as Hi­dalgo stood re­luc­tantly at the mi­cro­phone. “More re­verb, less slap?”

“Yeah,” Hi­dalgo said. “How about a beer?”

That’s em­blem­atic of this out-of-the-box out­ing for Los Lo­bos. Typ­i­cally, the band mem­bers have made demo record­ings in their in­di­vid­ual home stu­dios, then brought them in for the oth­ers to use as a tem­plate when it was time to record. That’s part of the recipe be­hind the ex­pand­ing mu­si­cal tex­tures Hi­dalgo and Perez have brought in — songs freely sam­pling blues, rock, coun­try, folk, jazz, R&B, psychedelia and pan-Latin styles, of­ten in Tom Wait­s­like sonic col­lages full of evoca­tive am­bi­ent sounds. Mean­while, Rosas has char­ac­ter­is­ti­cally kept the band con­nected to its roots with his border-blind norteño polkas and soul­ful blues and R&B num­bers.

Bob Cham­ber­lin pho­tos

From left, Louie Perez, David Hi­dalgo, Ce­sar Rosas and Steve Ber­lin talk about their work on the up­com­ing re­lease, ‘Tin Can Trust.’ The band wrote ‘The Lady and the Rose,’ a last-minute track for the CD, while they were in the stu­dio.

A note for the record­ing of songs for ‘Tin Can Trust’ lies on the sound board in a East Los An­ge­les record­ing stu­dio.

Var­i­ous cu­rios sit atop a speaker in the record­ing stu­dio where Los Lo­bos were work­ing on the band’s up­com­ing re­lease, ‘Tin Can Trust.’

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