You can always count on Los Lobos to do it right.
Few bands have managed to absorb as diverse a range of influences and process them into their own original sound quite as skillfully, successfully, or for as long as this pride of East Los Angeles. With Native Sons, Los Lobos pay homage to the artists that have inspired their nearly 50-year journey.
Consisting of one original song and a dozen covers that touch on rock, soul, and Chicano culture, Native Sons provides a snapshot into the soundtrack of their East L.A. youth. It also serves as an ideal showcase for the genre-defying sonic palette that makes Los Lobos one of the all-time great American roots-rock bands.
Native Sons starts with “Love Special Delivery,” a tune from peers and Chicano pioneers Thee Midniters. With David Hidalgo’s elegant lead guitar work nicely augmented by Donnie Ramirez on the trombone, it’s a joyous opening salvo.
One of this record’s pleasures is hearing Los Lobos put its spin on that song and “Los Chucos Suave,” tracks that aren’t familiar to a larger audience due to their regional and cultural origins. They’re performed expertly and fun to listen to, and they serve as excellent entry points into further exploring a part of the American roots tradition that is often overlooked.
But Native Sons isn’t merely an extended foray into West Coast obscurities. Los Lobos takes on some classics, too. The rendition of Buffalo Springfield’s “Bluebird/For What it’s Worth” is spot-on, and Hidalgo recreates the guitar parts of both Stephen Stills and Neil Young with precision. “Sail on Sailor,” a post-Pet Sounds cut from the Beach Boys, is a soulful treat that highlights Los Lobos’ ability to harmonize. But the best cover is also the most ambitious one on the album: WAR’s “The World is a Ghetto.”
Clocking in at over 8 and a half minutes, it’s an odyssey. Los Lobos recruits blues belter Barrence Whitfield for the chorus and the song’s original vocalist, Willie G., on the last verse. Willie G. is in fine vocal form and Whitfield adds a bit of madcap energy to the track’s conclusion, helping to heighten Hidalgo’s leads and Camilo Quinones’ funky percussion. It sounds like it was a blast to record, and it’s just such a great listening experience.
Cover albums can be a tricky proposition. There’s always that risk of sounding inconsequential or, worse, kitschy. Thankfully, Native Sons is neither of those options. It’s yet another worthwhile entry in the discography of a legendary band.