With the exception of U2, no other band has stayed on top of its game as long as Los Lobos. But while U2 constantly reinvent themselves and compete with new generations of bands, these East L.A. vets just keep on making the same golden blend of blues, R&B, cumbia and barrio rock & roll that they first laid down when Jimmy Carter was president. The Town and the City, Los Lobos’ best album since 1996’s Colossal Head, takes on one big theme: immigration. It’s an album about people — the hard life of outsiders in a new place — told without moralizing or sentimentality.
The production favors restraint over the lush, chaotic arrangements of albums like Kiko. But the band still sneaks in bits of weird noise — the incandescent guitar feedback that bleeds into “The Valley,” about the shadow life of itinerant farm laborers; the chain-gang beat that underpins “Hold On,” with one laborer’s lament that, “I’m killing myself to survive.” The album’s standout, “The Road to Gila Bend,” is a classic Lobos anthem, powered by David Hidalgo’s smoky vocals and a hurricane of Neil Young-like guitar. Other songs are subtler and take a little longer to sink in. When they do, you marvel: This is what happens when five guys create a magical sound, then stick together for thirty years to see how far it can take them.