Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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In 1994, Los Lobos's David Hidalgo and Louie Perez joined studio advisors Mitchell Froom and Tchad Blake on a side trip they dubbed The Latin Playboys. Although there had been intimations of this atmospheric music in Froom's penchant for melding Blake's samples into conventional song forms, his soundscapes had never opened up so far. And while the Latin Playboys' Dose (Atlantic) has to try a little harder--Los Lobos intervening Kiko used up some of the project's nicer tricks--it's almost as beautiful. There are tunes and riffs aplenty, songs too, but they're all subsumed in a mood defined by stories and talk, homemade music that sounds picked out on a barrio porch and dance music that sounds blasted from a cheap P.A. Listen and you'll hear Los Lobos's amalgam of blues, rock, and Mexican sounds in the aural context it came out of. You'll hear not just music but a world.

Los Lobos vocalist Cesar Rosas has always resisted this arty approach, so while his compadres were off mixing their fantasias, he set down the mostly self-written songs on Soul Disguise (Rykodisc). The writing and singing are predictably accomplished, and a New Orleans bump adds yet another element to Los Lobos's eclecticism. But in the abscence of truly superb writing and singing, the album doesn't stand out. It was to avoid such mere competence that the Latin Playboys were invented.


Skip James and Mississippi John Hurt died before the '60s were over, but both cut definitive blues in their waning years, and on Hurt's Rediscovered and James's Blues From the Delta, Vanguard winnows each legacy down to an essence. James is haunting and haunted, on the edge of vocal and guitar breakdown. As for Hurt, he's merely as gentle a great artist as ever lived--warm, sly, impossible to dislike.

Playboy, Jan. 1999


Dec. 1998 Feb. 1999