Los Lobos Credit: Courtesy the Artist

Los Lobos have spent their nearly half-century career staying one step ahead of anyone’s expectations. Formed in 1973, the group spent their early days playing Top 40 hits and ranchera on the East LA party circuit, but by the end of the decade they’d retooled their sound for the local punk scene. In 1987, they recorded some Ritchie Valens covers for the soundtrack of La Bamba, the 1987 biopic of the Chicano rock pioneer—and hit number one on Billboard with their spin on the title track. They followed that up with 1988’s La Pistola y el Corazon, an album of traditional Mexican music—a move that may have shocked fans who’d been introduced to them by the movie and expected an oldies party band a la Otis Day & the Knights. But anyone who’d followed Los Lobos since their pre-La Bamba years might have sensed a change was coming—not least because they made a cameo in the film as a traditional Mexican band. In the three decades since, Los Lobos have morphed from Tex-Mex to rockabilly to vintage R&B to Grateful Dead-inspired “jams” to unclassifiable experiments (which their spin-off band, the Latin Playboys, also explored to great effect). But aside from a track for a 1988 Warner Brothers holiday sampler, they hadn’t recorded any Christmas music until the brand-new Llego Navidad. They’ve returned to their traditional roots on the bulk of the songs, but the one R&B ballad, “Christmas & You” (sung by cofounder David Hidalgo), would be worthy of a remake by Jesse Belvin or Sam Cooke. After 46 years together, Los Lobos remain unparalleled in their scope.   v