Mixing the soul of rural Mexican music with good-rocking American roots, How Will the Wolf Survive? is one of the best records of 1984. Singer David Hidalgo, who will break your heart with two gorgeous tunes called “Will the Wolf Survive?” and “A Matter of Time,” sounds a lot like Fifties Chicano rocker Ritchie Valens: he’s got the same romantic, plaintive tenor. His songs play off the tougher numbers sung by Cesar Rosas, including the blues boogie “Don’t Worry Baby.”
Though Los Lobos’ EP of little more than a year ago hinted at their energy and style, this new collection of songs by the East L.A.-based quintet shows their versatility: from the gentle R&B of “A Matter of Time” to the polkalike romp of a couple of Mexican ranchero tunes to the honky-tonk spirits of “Our Last Night” and “I Got Loaded.” The choicest cut, though, is “Will the Wolf Survive?” — an allegory that’s given a lovely C&W lope. “Through the chill of winter/Running across a frozen lake/Hunters hot on his tail/All odds are against him/With a family to provide for/The one thing he must keep alive/Will the wolf survive?” Hidalgo sings in one verse.
There isn’t a dud among these songs. It’s the kind of record that dances you around till you’re worn out. Produced by T-Bone Burnett and the band’s sax man, Steve Berlin, the album has a big, clean sound, replete with mandolin figures, drifting lap-steel leads and accordion parts. The guys in Los Lobos must’ve grown up in homes where Dad threw the Vicente Fernandez records on after Elvis — the little touches of sweetly soulful Mexican country music make their rock & roll unique.