Way back in 1984 – was it really 31 years ago? – Los Lobos’  album How Will The Wolf Survive? quickly became one of my favourites and has remained so over the years.  Despite that, although I have a smattering of other records by the band in my collection, I’m guilty of not having paid close attention to all of the band’s output over the years.

Extraordinarily, the band have been together since 1973 after founder members, David Hidalgo and Louis Peréz met at high school.  Recruiting fellow members Cesar Rosas and Conrad Lozano, the band recorded its first album in 1977 and have continued to release new albums and tour regularly – they are an astounding live act – ever since. los_lobos_gates_of_gold

Surely one of the challenges of being in a band with a long term career must be trying to keep things fresh and interesting for themselves as well as their fans.  Los Lobos have an advantage in this respect in that along with rock and blues influences they can also call on the music of their Mexican heritage – they are as happy playing acoustic Mexican ballads as they are hard driven rock songs and can also combine the two to great effect.

Gates Of Gold is their 21st album, not counting compilations, and it has all the drive and energy that How Will The Wolf Survive had 31 years ago – it sounds better too.

Opening track Made To Break Your Heart opens as a mid-paced rocker with Hidalgo’s Steve Winwood-like vocals still sounding clear as a bell, halfway through though it takes a sudden lurch into a squally guitar solo that Neil Young would be proud to call his own. Following track, When We Were Free has a terrific live ambience about it; the band sounding like they are really in the room.  If Poquito para Aqui and La Tumba Serra el Final pay homage to the band’s Mexican heritage, then title track Gates Of Gold present the hopes and dreams of a couple moving to a new land of opportunity and hope.  The lyric as are ambiguous enough to allow you to question whether that new land still exists.

Few bands stick together for more than  forty years.  Fewer still avoid falling into self-parody and stagnancy.  Gates Of Gold is a lesson in how to do it right.

John Scott

Reviewed via Tidal

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