Like most people on the East Coast, I came into Los Lobos’ orbit via the side door of the LA punk/roots rock scene. If they were opening for X and The Blasters, I surmised, they were worth a listen. I became a fan the moment I heard How Will The Wolf Survive?
It’s hard to believe the Lobos have been together now forty years and although they come on and off my radar periodically, I’m always amazed at just how f*cking good this band is. A recent tour, featuring Los Lonely Boys and Alejandro Escovedo, reminded me what a great live band they are. And just like that, they’re back on my radar.
That brings us to Dream In Blue, Chris Morris’ new book on the band. Morris is a veteran music writer and has written for Billboard, MOJO, Rolling Stone and Spin. The book is as lean, direct, and to the point as the band’s music is — whether it be chicano rock’n’roll, norteño or anything and everything in between. Morris points out early that this book should not be considered biographical, but rather “a critical history of Los Lobos’ musical journey” and that’s exactly how it unfolds. The biographical info that is provided gives the backstory on the band’s interest and investigation into their musical heritage. It sets the tone for how Los Lobos' curiosity, restlessness and willingness to experiment would help shape their musical output. The fact that they all seem to be incredibly fast learners as well as exemplary musicians should come as no surprise to fans, particularly those who've seen the band live.
Morris examines each record and their songwriting and recording processes, as well as tours that follow. Los Lobos is old-school in all of those approaches, as well as building a fan base. It makes perfect sense that they and the Dead would soon be simpatico, and Los Lobos would be able to deliver signature covers of the Dead’s “Bertha” and “West LA Fadeaway.” The stories behind each album are equally informative. I was surprised there was so much turmoil behind my favorite record By The Light of the Moon and, despite reading everywhere how Kiko was the best thing the band recorded, Morris’ account sent me back to that record with fresh ears. It’s still not my favorite, but I do recognize what a turning point, musically, it was for the band.
Likewise, one can only wonder what path their career might have taken as Morris recounts their disasterous (on every level) decision to sign with Disney, rather than an independent label such as Rykodisc, who also wooed them. To the band’s everlasting credit, they seem to live with their mistakes and plow forward. The music truly is the thing with Los Lobos. And likewise, it is truly the thing with Chris Morris’ Dream In Blue, which makes this a dream of a read for fans of the Lobos. In the end, Morris' book sent me back to Los Lobos wonderfully deep catalogue of music and made me realize that bands in it for the long haul of forty years remain there for a reason — they're really good.
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