Los Lobos’ latest produces a handful of gems, but ultimately feels mostly inspired and partly assembled.
At Los Lobos’ 30-year anniversary mark, “The Ride” implies chronology as much as geography. The album looks back by pairing previously-released songs with guest musicians and looks forward with what proves to be a mixed bag of new material.
Midway through “The Ride,” the band performs a trio of songs that, taken as a musical suite, draws a fascinating split-screen window into three scenes of contemporary America on any given day. The band moves effortlessly from the dusty country roads of “Somewhere In Time” to the urban grit of “Wicked Rain/Across 110th Street” to the comical domestic conflict of “Kitate.”
In those 16 minutes, the band displays the mastery and range of musical styles and instrumentation that has been its calling card, particularly since 1992’s “Kiko.” And, even within the non-lyrics of “Kitate,” the band manages to populate a scene almost cinematically, something they’ve manage to do in their better studio moments throughout their career.
But the album’s emphasis on mixing influences and voices, clearly partly in sincere tribute and partly for the sake of experimentation, seems to have left less room than usual for developing new material, as evidenced by “Charmed” and “Chains of Love,” two tracks that might not have surfaced if competing with songs as strong as those that fleshed out 1990’s “The Neighborhood” or 2002’s “Good Morning Aztlan.”
Highlights include the aforementioned “Wicked Rain/Across 110th Street,” re-worked into an 8-minute 70’s groove that showcases the band’s great soul chops with Bobby Womack handling vocal duties. And the rollicking, electrified Mexican village party of “Venganza De Los Pelados,” which kicks off the album as a great dance track in 6/4 time. The band also shines brightly on the Ruben Blades-sung “Ya Se Va” and manages a sort of Celtic-flavored shuffle-jam with Richard Thompson on “The Wreck of the Carlos Rey.”
Elsewhere, Elvis Costello’s take on “Matter of Time” suffers from being buried in echo, giving the track a bootleg feel, and Cesar Rosas’ collaboration with longtime Grateful Dead lyricist Robert Hunter feels unfinished.