Gates of Gold
3 out of 5 stars
If Los Lobos sounds a bit enervated on their first studio album in five years well, who can blame them? The original quartet has been touring for over forty years (fifth member, multi-instrumentalist Steve Berlin joined in 1983) and between live and studio albums, EPs, Spanish language records, children’s releases, side and solo projects they have earned the right to sound a little tired on this eleven song set.
On the surface, it’s a representative batch of Los Lobos tunes that range from the straight ahead electric blues of “Mis-treater Boogie Blues,” to bittersweet ballads (the title track), acoustic based tales of ageing (“Song of the Sun”) and a few Latin selections. While there are highlights where the band shows glimpses of how hot they remain in concert, there are just as many tracks that never find their sweet spot. The Chicago blues of “I Believed You So” is a paint by numbers slow shuffle that’s just a notch above ordinary, “There I Go” is Lenny Kravitz styled stripped down soul that doesn’t go anywhere, sounding like a demo that hasn’t been fleshed out and the opening “Made to Break Your Heart” is pleasant but seems like something the group could have worked up in their sleep.
Still, even substandard Los Lobos is better than most of what is out there in roots rock land so when the quintet hit their stride on the soulful “When We Were Free” featuring a wonderfully hangdog David Hidalgo vocal and a truly propulsive bass line with some dark Berlin baritone sax (which there isn’t enough of here), you know you’re still in the presence of greatness. The acoustic title track is one of their prettiest, most poignant songs and when they garage rock it up on the propulsive “Too Small Heart” with its dueling guitar solos you get the feeling they are once again young and hungry.
Existing fans will find enough to satisfy them, but newbies should choose from earlier Los Lobos works for a better understanding of what makes these guys so special. After a five year wait, much of this seems fragmented and pieced together to get product into the market. Anyone who has seen them live knows how explosive they can be which makes Gates of Gold all the more disappointing.