4 out of 5 stars
Taken at face value, this is a collection of cover songs from artists originating around Los Lobos’ home base of L.A. But, as the liner notes advise, to pigeonhole it as just that is to miss a bigger story.
These 13 nuggets were chosen, recorded, and often pieced together during the pandemic. That downtime gave the veteran band (now approaching its 50th anniversary with all the original members intact) time off the road which they dedicated to finding the right selections to record.
As any fan of the East L.A. band knows, Los Lobos’ music is as eclectic as the inhabitants of the city that birthed them. Soul, rock, folk, blues, rockabilly, Latin, jazz, and Chicano sounds all appear in both their originals and the classics by others they habitually unveil on stage. So it’s little surprise that when pulling together tunes for this release, those genres would all be represented. Few other collectives, let alone ones that claim 50 years as a working concern, are accomplished and diverse enough to credibly recreate/reimagine the music of acts ranging from Buffalo Springfield, The Blasters, War, The Beach Boys, and Willie Bobo.
All those and more appear on this 50-minute audio travelogue of sorts that only scratches the surface of both the music that emerged out of LA and the band’s many influences. But what’s here is consistently inspirational. From a nearly note-perfect version of Springfield’s “Bluebird,” which they extend by combining that outfit’s hit “For What It’s Worth” to a handsomely crafted acoustic take on Jackson Browne’s “Jamaica Say You Will” (beautifully sung by David Hildago) to Percy Mayfield’s jump blues “Never No More” this varied gathering finds Los Lobos crafting their own mixtape for a party they would love to attend.
It wouldn’t be a Lobos album without at least one Spanish inclusion which is recreated with Bobo’s ballad “Dichoso,” emotionally sung and performed nearly solo by Cesar Roses. They rock out on The Premiers’ “Farmer John,” a song that has been in and out of their concerts for decades. And who doesn’t want to hear Los Lobos tackle War’s classic “The World Is a Ghetto?” At nearly nine minutes it’s the longest and arguably finest performance here with The Beach Boys’ evergreen “Sail on Sailor” a close second. Those hoping for fresh material (their last set of originals was six years ago) can look to the ‘60s slow dance title track, the only recently penned tune.
It may be a stop-gap disc to welcome them to their new label (New West), but Native Sons is a delightful, heartfelt introduction to the music that most moved Los Lobos as they were getting started and remains a touchstone for their own compositions.
Photo by Piero F Giunti Los Wolfes