Reviews of new releases from Los Lobos, Papa Roach, David Bowie and Piney Brown/Eddie Mack.
Good Morning Aztlan
Twenty-five years after releasing their debut album, Los Lobos del Este de Los Angeles, the pride of the East L.A. barrio releases Good Morning Aztlan, advancing the case that they're the best band in America. Los Lobos continues to refine its sound while tilling new stylistic soil — long after most groups of their tenure have either fallen apart or succumbed to the nostalgia circuit.
Los Lobos is equally facile with rock, R&B, cumbia, Tex-Mex, ballads and other fare. And they excel at grafting these styles together in unique ways. To wit: Maria Christina is a canny blend of Latin and reggae built around a spirited acoustic assault. Likewise, Malaque deftly mixes a punchy rock backbeat with the floating feel of indigenous Mexican instruments.
Besides being accomplished tunesmiths, instrumentalists and singers, Los Lobos have established themselves as expert soundscapers as well. On Good Morning Aztlan, they're going at it without longtime sonic partners Mitchell Froom and Tchad Blake. Sliding into the co-producer's chair (along with the band) is John Leckie, who helmed Radiohead's The Bends as well as records by XTC, The Verve and Stone Roses. Any fears that Los Lobos would lapse into gauzy British atmospherics are quickly quelled by the barn-burnin' opener Done Gone Blue, with its choppy New Orleans-meets-roots rock groove and biting guitars. Next up is a lovely excursion into rock-R&B: Hearts of Stone is worthy of Marvin Gaye, smoldering and sumptuous, fueled by David Hidalgo's soul-savvy tenor and fluid guitar breaks.
The quintet rocks out to hair-raising effect on the grabby title track and Get to This — not as rootsy as the early years, but still rambunctious. Probably the disc's most innovative tune is the closer, Round and Round — built around a slow, rolling beat and echo-y, Hendrix-style guitars, you could call it roots-psychedelia.
Louie Perez's plainspoken lyrics evoke both rue and hope. For every lament over the lapsed American dream like Tony y Maria and The Big Ranch, there's a celebratory Get to This or Good Morning Aztlan, which fondly paints the charms of life in El Barrio.
These are musician's who've been through a lot together — good and bad — who had their glimpse of stardom with La Bamba, but afterward, bonded by friendship, decided to only make music true to themselves. These are good men. Men of integrity. The music and lyrics reflect that. (Mammoth)
Papa RoachLovehatetragedyBrace yourself: this record isn't abominable. In fact, the opening track, M-80 (explosive energy movement) contains some of the coolest, most energetic riffage heard from a mainstream heavy band in eons. Time and Time Again, Walking Thru Barbed Wire, Code of Energy, and the Pink Floyd-esque title track's mellower moments likewise showcase some interesting grooves and manic performances. Their second disc reveals Papa Roach as far more heavily influenced by older commercial metal than by the nu school — think of them as a Skid Row for the new millennium — making even their frequent generic passages seem novel. Frontman Jacoby Shaddix (nee Coby Dick), however, ankles what could easily be an above-average effort with his bland vocals and almost unbelievably trite lyrics. Shaddix's wordplay ranges from the merely cliched (my emotions are storming/ and tears fall just like rain) to the out-and-out aggravating (walk as tall as the trees/ be gentle as spring winds/ and have the warmth of summer sun). So overwhelming is his angst-rocker caricature that it handicaps Lovehatetragedy's better tunes, and renders the weak stuff almost unlistenable. (Dreamworks) —Scott Harrell
David Bowie Heathen Here, finally, is the Bowie disc for everyone who's been waiting for The Beautifully Angular One to completely reconcile his tech-fancy with the inimitable approach to melancholy songwriting that characterizes his best work. The blips, beats and sonic manipulation that have occasionally run away with Bowie's latter-day material subordinate themselves to the songs on Heathen, fleshing out complete tunes rather than forming their basis. Add a little bit of Tin Machine's iconoclastic-rock guitar action, and you've got an album that manages to sound both fresh and noble. Well, OK, so maybe the space-disco of I Took a Trip on a Gemini Spaceship is neither, but Slip Away, Slow Burn and I Would Be Your Slave are classic Bowie, and the opening Sunday, energetic Afraid and meaty, rhythmic 5.15 The Angels Have Gone are more than worth the price of admission. (ISO/Columbia)
Piney Brown/Eddie Mack Hoot & Holler Saturday Night The post-WWII years spawned a raucous dance style that came to be known as jump-blues and, soon after, rhythm & blues (which, of course, became a blueprint for rock 'n' roll). A benchmark of the sound was the blues shouter, the most notable being Big Joe Turner, Wynonie Harris and Jimmy Rushing. Chicago's Delmark label has rooted through the vaults of the defunct Apollo label and come up with this gooseflesh-raising collection from two lesser-known blues shouters, Piney Brown and Eddie Mack. The format for these long-unavailable sides, cut in the late '40s and early '50s, is about as subtle as a 9-iron to the groin: stomping swing beats (mixed with the occasional slow groove), a 12-bar blues melody, a lean-and-hungry horn section (usually featuring a bar-walking sax solo) and the singer raisin' the roof. Mack's vocal style (on 14 selections) is more effervescent and occasionally urbane. Brown (eight tracks), a disciple of Wynonie Harris, is innately bluesier, with a bit more ache and rue in his voice. In all, Hoot & Holler Saturday Night makes for terrific house-party music, now as well as then. (Apollo/Delmark, www.delmark.com)