Cesar Rosas, 1999
I'm not sure exactlywhy I picked this album to review instead of one of the many Los Lobos records I have. For one thing, I suppose it gives me the opportunity to talk about some of my favorite kinds of music-group dynamics: the tense duality. You see, Los Lobos derive quite a bit of their greatness from the balancing of opposites, or so it seems to me. I'm oversimplifying to a very large degree here, but in the band, David Hidalgo (and to a lesser extent Louis Perez) represents restrained pristine beauty and devotion to folk tradition, while Cesar Rosas is wearing dark shades and rocking out, loud and dirty. There are plenty of other examples of dualities like this in popular music, another recent example being the fiercely intellectual Chuck D and the trickster-clown Flava Flav.
In any case, with that in mind, I picked this disc up from a Tower Records in Greenwich Village, not sure exactly what to expect when Rosas was let out on his own. I mildly enjoyed the Hidalgo/Perez outings, but this record I really dig. Rosas shows a broad spectrum of stylistic interests, and everything is deep, like he's digging down to claw at the roots of things while still having a party.
There's a very "big" sound to the production, even on the tunes where the instrumentation is stripped down and mostly acoustic. It's not exactly slick-sounding, but certainly very professional. That's the sort of thing that doesn't usually stand out on an album for me, save for a few, this being one of them.
I've got some favorites in the set, of course. The Ike Turner tune "You've Got to Lose" is a slamming blues tricked out as a vehicle for some blazing guitar licks. "Better Way" is an affecting simple mid-tempo ballad delivered in heartfelt gravel baritone, made extra-special by an obbligato on a Veracruzano harp. "Adios Mi Vida"is pure corrido, with a guest appearance by the inimitable Flaco Jimenez. And Rosas pays homage to Stax/Volt soul with a sly 6/8 churner he calls "E. Los Ballad #13."
Really wonderful tunes here, played with maturity, zeal, and great love for the music (do you get the impression sometimes, especially from big pop stars, that they aren't even really enjoying what they are doing and just have their eyes on the afterparty?). In listening to it all through carefully, I noticed that really everything is connected to the blues spirit in some way or other, so it's as if he took his "half" of the Los Lobos duality and nurtured it till it could stand on its own. Really enjoyable.