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Wednesday, 11 August 2010 15:28

Album Review: Los Lobos forge art out of Tin Can Trust

Album Review: Los Lobos forge art out of Tin Can Trust
Written by Mike Herr

Los Lobos
Tin Can Trust
Shout! Factory, 2010

"Burn It Down," the first cut on Los Lobos' Tin Can Trust, opens with urgent strums from an acoustic guitar -- immediately the listener feels a momentum, an impulse and a need to listen. As a band that has been made up of the same five core members since 1984, it is no small feat for Los Lobos to still deliver that kind of energy within the first few seconds of an album.

What makes Los Lobos a great band is the same thing that makes Tin Can Trust a solid, unique piece of art: the ability to surprise constantly. After those first few chords of "Burn It Down," a snare pops like a gunshot somewhere over the horizon, and the band settles in and pushes the listener, like we are chasing after the shot, chasing the gun. The band is already there, however, the chase is part of the song, or it could be an escape, a running away. All we know is we have to go and trust in the sonic warmth. We are in good hands, the hands of musicians who know when to cut in with a serrated guitar stab, or when to just let drums and bass pulse like the heart of someone watching the night for shooting stars.

Tin Can Trust feels cinematic in that its songs create a space and a mood for David Hidalgo to yarn out the stories in the lyrics. For example, "On Main Street" sets up an easy, shuffling groove for the singer to muse about the laid-back streets of his neighborhood. Although the lyrics are mostly straightforward images and illustrations of the singer's mood, the instrumentation stretches the meanings, colors the scene (a weird, Garth Hudson-esque organ creates a festive mood, while the fuzzed-up electric guitar jabs as if the singer might be strutting like some tough guy).

It is these small differences between the singer and the music that keeps listeners guessing. It is Los Lobos' uncanny knack to always generate a sound and mood in each song that proves we don't ever know what is coming. In one of the album's strongest songs, "Jupiter or the Moon," Hidalgo is singing to the stars or to someone long gone, and we are somewhere in space, listening for a response to his question: "How long is forever?" It is a brooding, haunting song. But when the singer begins to plead, the music shifts with him, and an organ stretches over the song like a blanket. The band is comforting the singer, telling him it will be okay, but it doesn't stay cute for long. Right after this plea, the song shifts again and all grows quiet -- from some corner of the sky comes a muffled answer in the form of a guitar solo, a strange solo in which the guitar seems to struggle, choking on certain notes as if the answer is just another question. The song represents these five friends talking to each other, sometimes loud, sometimes quiet, but always talking to each other.

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