Listening to Los Lobos' new Tin Can Trust is somewhat akin to spending time with the kind of friend who will tell you, for better or worse, the way things really are. Their music boasts no sentimental pick-me-ups, no faux drama and no theatrical gloss to glamorize the world. The veteran East Los Angeles band remains one of the most straight shooting rock 'n' roll voices we have today. Tin Can Trust, in a manner that is continually assured and understated, only adds to that reputation.
The band fires off two prime examples right off the bat. On Burn It Down, Los Lobos grooves to a minor key riff that outlines a mostly undefined loss. Is it innocence? Youth? Love? It's all of that, probably. David Hidalgo defines it over successive verses simply as "destiny," "dignity" and "mystery." But it's a soul-scorching loss, to be sure. "Maybe I'll miss it on some lonely day," Hidalgo sings with dismissive candor. "And maybe think about what I might say."
Tin Can Trust then turns on a dime for a streetside serenade called On Main Street, an affirmation of family set to a looped groove that recalls the band's '90s recordings with producer Mitchell Froom — until the music melts into psychedelic mist that better reflects latter-day Traffic.
The album-closing 27 Spanishes operates musically from the same plane as On Main Street, even though its story line is significantly larger. The neighborhood it speaks of is Mexico at the time of the Spanish conquests. But the song is more of an everyday parable than a history lesson. It's a bloody page of the past served with a happy ending that was long in the making. "Now they all hang out together," Hidalgo sings at the tune's conclusion, "and play guitars for kicks."
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Los Lobos' other primary voice, Cesar Rosas, pilots Tin Can Trust's two Spanish songs — the spry cumbia Yo Canto and the equally spirited nortena Mujer Ingrata. He also strikes up the album's most urgent rocker, a snapshot of tough love in forward motion called All My Bridges Burning, which was penned with Grateful Dead lyricist Robert Hunter. Hidalgo follows by covering the Dead directly with the 1987 Hunter/Jerry Garcia groove meditation West L.A. Fadeaway, a song with the distinction of rhyming "pathetic" with "copacetic."
But the most telling moments of Los Lobos' unmovable everyman philosophy emerge on Tin Can Trust by way of an instrumental titled Do the Murray. It's a massively happy guitar shuffle written by Hidalgo not as a party tune, but as a requiem for his dog.
Yes, family runs deep on Tin Can Trust, even when it runs on four legs.