Los Lobos still leads the pack

Band has delivered string of quality albums since ’80s




After more than 30 years, Los Lobos has created one of the most enviable music catalogs in all rock and roll, with an unbroken string of albums that have ranged from good to spectacular.

If you go

What: Los Lobos, in concert with Los Lonely Boys.

When: 7 p.m. July 24.

Where: Oregon Zoo Amphitheater, 4001 S.W. Canyon Road, Portland.

Cost: $26 through Ticketmaster, 800-745-3000 or http://ticketmast...>

Information: Call 503-226-1561 or visit http://oregonzoo....>

The band from east Los Angeles has remained rooted in blues, R&B and — of course — Mexican music, while embracing a sense of adventure. That’s led the group to continually break new stylistic ground, while bringing both terrific songwriting talent and openness to experimentation to the party.

As inspiring as the group could be for young musicians, however, saxophonist/keyboardist Steve Berlin has a word of advice for young musicians: Don’t do what Los Lobos did in making its latest album, “Tin Can Trust.”

The band went into the studio with no songs written.

“It really isn’t a smart way to work and record,” Berlin said.

One reason Berlin and his bandmates (guitarist/multi-instrumentalist/singer David Hidalgo, guitarist Louie Perez, guitarist/singer Cesar Rosas and bassist Conrad Lozano) sometimes end up in the studio before their songs do is because the band maintains a busy touring schedule.

But there’s another major factor.

“The writing process for us doesn’t come terribly easy,” Berlin said. Until they absolutely have to write, the band’s members do not sit down and get to work, he said.

As usual, though, Los Lobos delivered a solid effort with “Tin Can Trust.”

Hidalgo and Perez, the group’s primary songwriting team, delivered six songs. The stellar opener, “Burn It Down,” is a rootsy and soulful track that includes a guest vocal from Susan Tedeschi. Also strong: the title song, a plaintive but punchy ballad that deals with the hard times many people are experiencing in the current recession, and “The Lady and the Rose,” an evocative mid-tempo track spiced by some tangy acoustic guitar. Rosas, meanwhile, is responsible for a pair of rousing Spanish-language songs (“Yo Canto” and “Mujer Ingrata”), and he also co-wrote the ballad “All My Bridges Burning” with Grateful Dead lyricist Robert Hunter.

Quality no surprise

That Los Lobos delivered another solid album is no surprise. Since releasing its first rock-oriented full-length album, “How Will the Wolf Survive?” in 1984, Los Lobos has consistently delivered some of the finest music in all of rock and roll.

It’s had albums that were rootsy and organic (“Will the Wolf Survive” and 2004’s “The Ride”) and others that stretched the definition of roots rock in exciting ways by including a good deal of stylistic and sonic experimentation (1992’s “Kiko,” 1996’s “Colossal Head” and 2006’s “The Town and the City”).

“Tin Can Trust” falls firmly in the rootsy and organic category.

The band took a new approach to recording, cutting the basic tracks live with all five band members playing together in a single room instead of assembling finished takes an instrument at a time.

“We hadn’t recorded that way ever,” Berlin said. “Even in the ’90s, recording at the Sound Factory where we did ‘Kiko’ and those other records, the drums were in a room and we were out in a room next to them.”

Because they were recorded live, the “Tin Can Trust” songs should translate well in concert. What new songs audience members hear will vary, because Los Lobos changes up its set list from night to night.

“It just sort of depends on the vibe of the audience and where they’re at and where we feel they’re at,” Berlin said, explaining how the band chooses what songs to play on a given night. “We try not to do the same show twice. The other thing, too, is we have a spot on our website if people want to request a song. We try to accommodate to the extent that we can, as long as it’s one that we know and can play it.”