Los Lobos

Native Sons

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Native Sons Review

by Mark Deming

Los Lobos named their debut album Just Another Band from East L.A. back in 1978, when they were still primarily playing acoustic music. While the title was meant to be tongue in cheek, their hometown is clearly a major part of who they are and what they do. It's hard to imagine another city giving them the fertile ground to create their trademark fusion of rock, blues, folk, Latin, R&B, and Tex-Mex that manages to be more than the sum of that remarkable list of parts. Los Lobos pay tribute to the Los Angeles musical community and the songs that inspired them on 2021's Native Sons, which features a dozen songs originally written and recorded by artists from L.A., along with one new original. The covers album is often a risky proposition, as it suggests the artists may have run out of fresh ideas of their own, but if Los Lobos didn't write most of the songs here, they make them their own with the imagination, spirit, and commitment of their performances, not to mention their impressive chops and the incredible feel that comes from more than four decades of working together. They open the set with "Love Special Delivery," a classic side from the East L.A. R&B act Thee Midniters, who fittingly were stars in California without breaking big anywhere else, and while it's mostly faithful to the original, the band tears into it with the fervor of true fans. They show a special joy in putting their stamp on material from hometown heroes like Lalo Guerrero y Sus Cincos Lobos ("Los Chucos Suaves"), Willie Bobo ("Dichoso"), Don & Dewey ("Farmer John"), and the Jaguars ("Where Lovers Go"), though they can also tackle Buffalo Springfield (their arrangement of "For What It's Worth" expands greatly on the menace of the original), the Beach Boys (a emphatic performance of "Sail On, Sailor") and War (a jazzy exploration of "The World Is a Ghetto" with guest vocals from Little Willie G. and Barrence Whitfield) with an individual style. And the impassioned plea of the title cut sounds just like one of the dusties that inspired them in the first place while also feeling fresh and totally like them. Native Sons is a tribute that manages to be more than a set of covers -- it shows what the group learned from these songs, as well as showing us where their long musical journey has taken them. It's essential listening from one of America's greatest bands.

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