Critic's pick: Los Lobos, 'Disconnected in New York City'

Contributing Music WriterNovember 12, 2013 

Now in the midst of its 40th anniversary as a band, Los Lobos remains a quietly authoritative voice of rock, soul and roots music. A wonderful new concert recording, Disconnected in New York City, is proof.

As is usually the case with Los Lobos, though, the reasons fortifying that proof seem obvious but aren't.

To begin with, Disconnected is displaced — at least, geographically. Los Lobos formed in East Los Angeles as a Mexican-American troupe devoted equally to traditional cumbias and Tex-Mex romps, and to very north-of-the-border rock 'n' roll. But this record has the band, whose core lineup has never changed (save for the addition in the '80s of keyboardist/saxophonist Steve Berlin), on the opposite coast, playing at New York's folk-friendly City Winery last December.

Then we have the sound. Disconnected implies that the music is unplugged, which it largely is. But unlike the strictly acoustic performances that Los Lobos regularly indulges in (programs that tend to lean exclusively to traditional Mexicali music), this fine new concert set is simply a slighter, lighter look at the full scope of the band's repertoire. The primary differences come with frontmen David Hidalgo and Cesar Rosas sticking to acoustic guitars and the addition of a percussionist (Camilo Quinones) alongside the band's touring drummer (Bugs Gonzalez).

This gives Disconnected a decidedly cool temperament that quietly but boldly orchestrates the Rosas-led Chuco's Cumbia and the lush, Santana-like away that plays out under Hidalgo's lead on La Venganza de los Pelados and the James Brown-savvy soul celebration Set Me Free (Rosa Lee) and the giddy Tex-Mex party piece Gotta Let You Know.

But the real delight offered by Disconnected is the set list. La Bamba, the Richie Valens hit that the band respectfully appropriated and reinvented in the '80s, closes the record in an ultra-fun jam medley with Good Lovin', but what we have here is, by design, not a hit parade. Instead, Los Lobos digs deep into its catalogue for forgotten favorites from its earliest albums and treasures from recent works that were largely neglected.

Among these treats are the serenely streetwise blues that enforces the title tune to 2010's Tin Can Trust, the devastating soul ballad Little Things (from 2006's The Town and the City), the wistful Spanish-flavored serenade Malaque (from 2002's Good Morning Aztlan) and the rhumba-esque time-capsule piece Oh Yeah (from 1999's This Time).

But the killer is Tears of God, a prayer for salvation that dates back to 1987. Sung alternately by Hidalgo and Rosas, it remains a vital portrait of the lasting soulfulness and solemnity that continue to make Los Lobos one of the most potent but unassuming rock bands in any land.

Read Walter Tunis' blog, The Musical Box, at LexGo.com.

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