Tuesday, October 6, 2009

October 6: Los Lobos, "How Will The Wolf Survive?"

Artist: Los Lobos
Album: How Will The Wolf Survive?
Year: 1984
Label: Slash/Warner Bros.

They key to success for an overwhelming majority of bands is to find a specific sound, perfect it, and then play the hell out of it. While most of the time, this ends up defining the truly great bands, there are a handful of musical acts that are so eclectic and talented, that sticking to a single sound is almost impossible. Among these bands who go beyond the "single sound" approach is a group that combined everything from blues and R&B to folk, country, and traditional Spanish and Mexican sounds. Fusing all of these sounds and styles together, the music of Los Lobos never seems forced or contrived, and this is the true magic behind their amazing sound. Though the band is perhaps most famous for their number one hit, a cover of the Ritchie Valens song, "La Bamba," the song barely even scratches the surface of everything that makes Los Lobos true music legends. From their humble start playing quite literally ANYWHERE they could, to their later success as one of the most creative and highly respected bands on the planet, Los Lobos have truly done it all, and their music today is just as fresh and innovative as it was more than thirty years ago. After independently releasing both an EP and an LP in the late 1970's/early 1980's, the group was signed to a Warner Brothers subsidiary and entered the studio to record their "major label debut." The resulting session remains one of the greatest albums ever recorded, and it perfectly captures everything that makes Los Lobos so extraordinary, 1984's How Will The Wolf Survive?

Presenting a blues-based, upbeat take on traditional Spanish and Mexican sounds, the music of Los Lobos is like nothing else ever recorded. While a times, it comes across as a distant, brighter cousin of Stevie Ray Vaughn, there is truly no genre that the group does not somehow infuse into their sound. While Los Lobos was out to prove their worth on their debut record, so was their producer, an up and coming artist named T-Bone Burnett. Though in modern times, he is known for his work with everyone from Counting Crows to Allison Kraus and Robert Plant, when he was slated to work with Los Lobos, he was still a somewhat struggling musician, writer, and producer. His work throughout How Will The Wolf Survive? is nothing short of perfect, as he is able to brilliantly capture the bands fantastic sound, as well as the rich and original moods and emotions that come out within their music. This is the true genius behind the music of Los Lobos, their ability to fuse together countless seemingly unrelated sounds, and create a new, complex and captivating style of music. Whether they are playing beautiful, almost 50's style slower songs like "A Matter Of Time," or a fast paced song rooted in Spanish/Mexican traditional sounds like "Serenata Nortena," the diversity found within How Will The Wolf Survive? is truly unparalleled anywhere else in music. This ability to be so successful in so many different styles is a testament to the absolutely phenomenal amount of talent and chemistry that lives with the members of Los Lobos.

Easily one of the most unique aspects of Los Lobos is that, after more than three decades of making music, the bands' original lineup is still completely intact. The quintet of multi-instrumentalists and vocalists that comprise the group are each fantastic in their own right, yet the combination of all five is truly extraordinary. Playing both standard guitar as well a the bajo sexto, Cesar Rosas is one of the most recognizable members of the band due to his signature dark black sunglasses. With a simiarly distinctive voice that growls like that of Howlin' Wolf, Rosas is just as amazing as a vocalist as he is on guitar. Bringing his superb musical ability to both bass as well as the iconic guitarron, Conrad Lozano often evokes the sounds of Motown with his signature "walking" basslines. It is very much due to the playing style of Lozano that provides Los Lobos with their moods and styles, and his abilities allow the band to explore seemingly endless musical territory. Having been a part of seminal roots-rock band, The Blasters, drummer and horn master, Steve Berlin is absolutely magnificent throghout How Will The Wolf Survive? Having worked with everyone from John Lee Hooker to R.E.M., Berlin is by far one of the greatest drummers of his generation, yet his work with Los Lobos is by far his finest work. This trio of musicians would be fantastic in their own right, but the fact that there are more members of Los Lobos takes their sound and power from superb to truly magnificent.

Serving as the primary singers and songwriters for the band, David Hidalgo and Louie Pérez stand today as one of the greatest writing teams in music history. Hidalgo is a true musical genius, playing everything from standard guitar to accordion to fiddle and requinto jarocho throughout How Will The Wolf Survive? His soft, yet powerful and highly emotive voice give the songs a stunning and inescapable mood, and the combination of all of this makes the music of Los Lobos truly mesmerizing. The way in which he fuses together the sounds of traditional rock music with his own roots opened the doors for countless artists since, and the songs are just as fresh and enjoyable today as they were nearly thirty years ago. Though in recent years, he has become a second drummer and percussionist, Louie Pérez started in the band playing guitar and jarana huasteca, along with being one of the primary songwriters. His chemistry with Hidalgo is undeniable, and his singing is just as amazing as that of the rest of his bandmates. Responsible for many of Los Lobos' most treasured songs, Pérez is easily one of the most talented musicians of his generation, and Los Lobos' How Will The Wolf Survive? serves as a testament to the overall superiority of the band in every aspect possible.

Clearly showing that, not only did they possess spectacular musical talent, but they also fully understood exactly what "made" their music so great, How Will The Wolf Survive? is one of the most wonderfully diverse albums ever released, and it serves as a testament to the unequaled skill of each band member. Whether it is a swinging blues number like "I Got Loaded" or a gorgeous, traditional sounding instrumental like, "Lil' King Of Everything," there is not a subpar moment anywhere on Los Lobos' major label debut, How Will The Wolf Survive? Excelling in every genre and stylistic fusion, all five members of the band are nothing short of phenomenal, and the sound they create as a group is truly something special that must be experienced firsthand to be fully appreciated. Pulling influence from everyone from Bob Dylan and The Rolling Stones to Buddy Holly and Ritchie Valens, all of their influences are brilliantly blended together, creating a sound like nothing else the world had ever heard. Playing traditional Mexican and Spanish instruments alongside the stalwarts of rock and roll, the music of Los Lobos has played a massive role in later music across nearly every genre imaginable. Still standing today as one of the greatest musical accomplishments in history, Los Lobos' 1984 major label debut, How Will The Wold Survive? is almost a bit ironic in title, as after one experiences the phenomenal music on the album, there is no question that both the band and music will live on forever.

Standout tracks: "Don't Worry Baby," "I Got Loaded," and "How Will The Wolf Survive?"

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