As the members of Los Lobos have embellished numerous recordings by other artists over the years, so it makes sense that when they called in on favors, their friends responded en masse. Lobos' new album, The Ride, is due May 4th and features a guest list of Elvis Costello, Tom Waits, Richard Thompson, the Band's Garth Hudson, Mavis Staples and a gaggle of others.
"We had a wish list, and I consider them all friends," says multi-instrumentalist Louie Perez, "but we weren't sure whether they'd be available or interested. We didn't anticipate that nobody would tell us no . . . it was a good problem to have."
The Ride is, in many ways, the quintessential Los Lobos album. For a band that has always found a way to fuse old and new, the record is a further refinement of that practice, featuring a bundle of new tracks as well as a few from the back catalog, dusted off, re-conceived and freshly recorded. "When you make a record," Perez says, "you usually have to live with it for awhile. This was our way of saying, 'Hey, you know what, I had an idea twenty years ago . . .'"
The band's history is also reflected by some of the guests, from Dave Alvin ("Somewhere in Time"), who with the Blasters used to share Los Angeles stages with Lobos more than two decades ago, to producer Mitchell Froom, who recorded five Lobos albums between 1990 and 2000. The album also features Lobos Latin influences and influence: from legendary Sixties rock troupe Thee Midnighters' Willie G and Panamanian singer/actor/politician Ruben Blades to newcomers like Mexican alt-rockers Cafe Tacuba and pan-Latin folk rockers Quetzal.
As for the old-songs-made-new, the bluesy "Wicked Rain" (from 1992's Kiko) is fused with Seventies R&B classic "Across 110th Street" and boasts an appearance by that song's originator Bobby Womack. Staples injects her trademark gospel blues into "Someday," and Costello, unable to join the band in the studio due to touring commitments, recorded a vocal for "Matter of Time" (originally on 1984's How Will the Wolf Survive) during a sound check in Oslo, Norway. "We'd be at the studio, just waiting for his package to arrive," Perez says. "It was like Christmas. We gathered around and put it on; it's a stunning performance."
Los Lobos hooked back up with Froom on the new cut "Rita," which he peppers with his sweeping keyboards. Richard Thompson's staccato guitar licks and vocals color "Wreck of Carlos Rey."
"It took a little gymnastics, but we did it," Perez says. "Mavis and Bobby, we had to go to them. We'd send Garth Hudson a file and he'd go nuts on it. Waits, we sent an eight-track cassette and he messed around with it and sent it back. Then there were days where I'd pull up to Cesar's [guitarist Rosas] house and I look in the rearview mirror and Richard Thompson's pulling in behind me. There were so many different ways it got done, but this was really a needle and thread sewn into the fabric of what we're all about."
You won't find it billed anywhere on the package, but 2004 marks the thirtieth anniversary of the time when Perez, Rosas, multi-instrumentalist David Hidalgo and bassist Conrad Lozano pulled away from other groups to become the modestly tagged "Just Another Band From East L.A"; saxophonist Steve Berlin joined a mere twenty years ago. "This wasn't put together as any kind of anniversary record," Perez says. "But I guess maybe we're just waxing a bit sentimental at the time. We're going to be doing all of the things that go with putting out a record, and I think it could run all year long. It's going to feel like an extended birthday party."
The Ride track list:
La Venganza de los Pelados (with Cafe Tacuba and Garth Hudson)
Rita (Mitchell Froom)
Is This All There Is (Thee Midnighters' Willie G)
Somewhere in Time (Dave Alvin)
Wicked Rain/Across 110th Street
Kitate (Tom Waits and Quetzal's Martha Gonzales)
Ya Se Va (Ruben Blades and Alberto Salas)
Wreck of Carlos Rey (Richard Thompson)
Someday (Mavis Staples and Lonnie Jordan)
Matter of Time (Elvis Costello)
Chains of Love (Garth Hudson)