The members of Los Lobos have worked as hard as anybody to advance the notion that a great band is an omnivorous band. That’s not necessarily the compliment it might first seem to be; the kitchen-sink approach also produces undercooked Ryan Adams albums and overstuffed OutKast discs. But Los Lobos have made their eclecticism sound sensible and natural, and during the mid-90s they made a solid case for themselves as the best band in the country. With help from studio wizard Mitchell Froom, they’ve combined their Tex-Mex and norteno roots and their affinity for American country, folk, and soul on at least three top-shelf albums: 1992’s Kiko, the 1994 side project Latin Playboys, and 1996’s Colossal Head. The band celebrated its 30th birthday last year, and you could certainly argue that its members’ pursuit of outside work portends flagging interest. But Los Lobos’ new album of collaborations, The Ride (Hollywood), makes a convincing argument for their continued vitality, in part because they pick up so much energy from their guest stars: the roster includes Tom Waits, Elvis Costello, Mavis Staples, Ruben Blades, and, for better or for worse, Robert Hunter (being omnivorous, alas, means you can’t turn up your nose at the Grateful Dead). A retooled version of the band’s “Wicked Rain” recorded with Bobby Womack not only interpolates his “Across 110th Street” but gracefully covers half a dozen genres in eight minutes. The Ride lacks the spiky, frenetic experimentation that marks Los Lobos’ best work, but it does share a great virtue with their live shows–the loose-limbed versatility they’ve developed in their three decades together. The Nicholas Tremulis Orchestra opens; this show is sold-out. Wednesday, June 30, 7:30 PM, Park West, 322 W. Armitage; 773-929-5959 or 312-559-1212.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Max Aguilera-Hellweg.