It's rare to have a group that's been around as Los Lobos have, and produced as many albums as they have, to come out with an album that leaves me dumbfounded. That's exactly what East LA's favorite sons have done here. They've taken the elements that make up their sound - David Hidalgo's aching ballads, Cesar Rosas' blues stompers, Mexican folk instruments and melodies -- taken them apart, and reassembled them into something noone's ever heard before. The result is strange, beautiful, and haunting. Producer Mitchell Froom has talked about how the collective vision for this project was to break free of the "tyranny of the band", to avoid doing things the way they've always been done -- in that they have certainly succeeded.
From the opening "Dream In Blue", with its insistent percussion, blues guitar riffs, and unision flute/baritone sax lines, it's obvious that there are some new textures in play. "Wake Up Dolores" features unearthly backing vocals. "Angels With Dirty Faces" is built around an strange drum loop that pulls against the rhythm of the melody in a fascinating way. "That Train Don't Stop Here" is a more typical Rosas rocker, and brings us at least partway back to earth, but the very understated drum part creates extra tension. Next comes "Kiko and the Lavendar Moon", with a hornlike keyboard riff reminiscent of a jazz big band calling and responding to a distinctly Mexican accordion sound. "Saint Behind The Glass" is perhaps my favorite track of all, a fragile and beautiful song augmented with Veracruz harp and featuring a haunting vocal (from drummer Louie Perez, I think -- at least, it doesn't sound like either Rosas or Hidalgo). And that's just the first six tracks out of sixteen! I could go on and on -- there's not a weak track in the bunch.
Without question this is Los Lobos' finest album to date, and a real masterpiece. They've come up with an extremely strong set of songs and, with the aid of Froom, have recorded them in highly imaginative ways without ever obscuring the strengths of the songs themselves.