Los Lobos
Starting anew
By Alan Sculley

Being from East LA, I wonder if they know Cheech.

After 25 years of recording together, Los Lobos can be counted as one of the few bands that seems as creatively restless and musically inspired as when the band formed in East Los Angeles in 1974. Saxophonist/keyboard player Steve Berlin says that continued vitality is no illusion.

"I think we're still looking for the stuff that rocks us," Berlin said, commenting on the continued vitality of the band, whose first CD, Del Este De Los Angeles, was released in 1977. "By no means do we feel like we've arrived anywhere. I think that's probably part of it. I think another part of it might be that we still feel like we're still struggling to be heard in many respects, fighting I guess what would be called a good fight for decency in music, soulfulness, and all the (stuff) that sort of seems to have gone away from modern music.

"That and the fact that I think we've always been incredibly wide open to anything, any idea musically, within the band," Berlin noted. "For us, it's just it's always been a huge part of what we do. It helps us, I think, stay together and stay focused just because everything is always a possibility."

The bands willingness to continue searching for new musical territory to explore is demonstrated once again in Los Lobos' approach to their new CD, Good Morning Aztlan.

Like most every Los Lobos album, the band began work on the record literally with no defined concept for they type of songs or sound the band wanted to create.

"I think one of the reasons why it works best for us really, is we're sort of at this stage where it's almost like we're kids again," Berlin said. "We sort of need to be captivated by what's going on. A lot of what captivates us, frankly, is the exploring and not have the roadmap and get to the destination, or not even knowing what the destination is, just exploring the songs and seeing where they'll let us go."

In fact, the idea of searching for new musical dimensions was important enough that the group parted ways with producers Mitchell Froom and Tchad Blake, who had been close creative partners with the band throughout the 1990s.

"It wasn't because there was anything we didn't like or weren't into as far as Mitchell and Tchad were concerned," Berlin said. "Those guys are unbelievable. I think all of us to a man loved everything we did with them. "I think more than anything else it was sort of a sense of well let's try another way," he said. After cutting a few songs with engineer Dave McClain, the band settled on John Leckie, who has worked such notable bands as Radiohead, XTC, and Simple Minds, to produce he new CD.

The combination worked as Los Lobos and Leckie have delivered a typically outstanding CD.

The songs "Good Morning Aztlan," "Done Gone Blue," and "Get to This" give the CD a potent rock edge, while "Hearts Of Stone" "The Word" and "Round & Round"-three songs filled with soulful grace-form another stylistic foundation for the CD.

Falling between those two sets of songs are the bluesy "The Big Ranch," the folksy ballad "Tony & Maria," and the Mexican-flavored tracks, "Malaque," "Luz de Mi Vida," and "Maria Christina."

While there are still some intriguing sonics, the new CD overall avoids many of the unconventional sonics of Kiko, Colossal Head, and This Time. Instead, the focus on Good Morning Aztlan is firmly on the song writing and performances.

This more straight-forward sonic approach was the only goal the band set for Good Morning Aztlan before song writing and recording actually began.

"We felt like we had done relatively experimental sonically interesting records in the past," Berlin said. "There wasn't really a lot more there that wouldn't sound like we were going in some measure backwards, or at least trying to do something we had already done. So it was something that we were pretty aware of. We don't ever want to go backwards."

Los Lobos plays September 21, as part of Blue Sky Festival, Jam Fest in Louisville.