Even among music fans who've never developed an affection for Los Lobos, only the addled would withhold their respect: Together for 30 years, they have long been in the top rank of bands both for consistency and for innovation. Both of those drive "The Ride," their 12th album, even while it also is a loop into charted territory: Four of the 13 songs are new versions of songs from their past.
The burden of genius is expectation, and Los Lobos has carried it impressively since 1992, when "Kiko" proved forever what these boys from East LA can do. Most recently, on "The Road to Aztlan" (2002) and "The Ride" (2004), the band has continued to explore the threads of its ethnic and musical heritage in fresh and virtuosic ways. But this 13-track effort revisits too many old tricks to warrant a place on the band's top shelf.
How many times have you hacked through CD cellophane, excited to recapture a band's live sizzle but found only its songs instead?
"How Will the Wolf Survive?" was the title question of Los Lobos's debut album, and the answer is more a wonder today than ever. From mere distractions to personal tragedy - none worse than the murder of guitarist and vocalist Cesar Rosas's wife - events have threatened to put the band asunder. But their new release, "Good Morning Aztlan," proves they not only survived, but continue to thrive. The strong point of this new effort is Louie Perez's lyrics, many of which come from mourning, even if they don't end there.
It used to be that one sure way to check guitar lovers' bona fides was to ask their favorites. If Michael Hedges or Ry Cooder wasn't on the list, you had cause for doubt. Now here's another secret password for the devotees' club: D'Gary (given name: Ernest Randrianasolo), the acoustic maestro from Madagascar. He's not new: Two critics in these pages picked his "Horombe" disc as among the best of 1995, and a couple of years later, "Mbo Loza" arrived with similar satisfaction. Now comes "Akata Meso," which is both the same and different.
It's not surprising that the jacket of "Mercyland" contains about 40 images of the New Orleans rockers Cowboy Mouth in concert, because live is where they shine. Drummer and band leader Fred LeBlanc is arresting onstage, sweating and spitting, and leaving a semicircle of woodchips -- evidence of what happens to drumsticks at high power. Alas, it's also not surprising -- given previous releases -- that what's inside is just regular rock 'n' roll. The tunes could have been created by any band or even by these boys four years ago; their sound hasn't gone anywhere.
Coco Montoya has reserved a spot for his mentor and musical father, Albert Collins, on each of his five albums. In 1995, it was Collins's "Gotta Mind To Travel," and the result was one of its hottest tracks.
On the new "Can't Look Back," it happens again: Montoya blisters through Collins's "Same Old Thing," stretching out in a way he chooses not to with most of his own compositions.
Montoya also likes to put some soul into his mix. This time, he takes a run through "Something About You," the Dozier/Holland/Dozier tune popularized by the Four Tops in 1965.
PROVIDENCE - The typical U2 concert, if such events could ever be called typical, is made up of equal parts of love and politics, showmanship and musicianship, Bono and the Edge.
At the Big Donut in Providence Tuesday night, the band added a heavy helping of good old American patriotism, egged on by the lead singer's numerous allusions to the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11.
Back when having a five-CD changer in your car was new and impressive, I had one that sat in my trunk and sent songs to my FM radio. It worked on one of only four frequencies, all at the lower end of the dial, but one of them was unused in my area, so it was fine as long as I didn't drive to New Jersey.
That was a long time ago, particularly in electronics years, which has me wondering why the Griffin iTrip, a good-looking iPod attachment based on the same idea, is so hard to get along with.
There's no veneer to Jean-Luc Ponty, the jazz violinist who's appearing at Berklee Performance Center Thursday night.
You might expect, and could forgive, a little crustiness if you consider his path: decades of performing, thousands of concerts, hundreds of venues, and dozens of tours in countries uncounted. After classical training and a symphony job right after, he helped shape the futures of rock and jazz during stints with Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention and John McLaughlin's Mahavishnu Orchestra. He's been a successful bandleader and composer for more than 25 years.