Good Morning Aztlán

Great bands have a signature sound that is at once instantly recognizable and infinitely variable. That’s certainly true of Los Lobos, which by now is so well established as one of the supreme trail-blazing American roots bands that its new releases invite comparison only with its previous work. And Good Morning Aztlán is its best album since the masterful Kiko (though the underrated Colossal Head was mighty fine).

I say “roots,” but “rootsy” might be better, since the group has gone far beyond the crossbreeding of traditional Mexican music with rock ‘n’ roll that it’s best known for, drawing upon blues, country, Tex-Mex and many other genres. The Lobos have always been mezcladores, or mixer-uppers, but here they outdo themselves. There are touches of reggae (in “Maria Cristina"), Marvin Gaye-style soul ("The Word"), salsa (in “Luz de Mi Vida,” with its delightful Spanglish lyrics), even rockabilly (in the title tune, a series of vivid snapshots of East L.A. life).

These may be fundamentally simple genres, but the Lobos are anything but a simple band. Their sheer proficiency after 25 years of playing together is something to marvel at, and lyricist (and drummer) Louie Perez deserves to be called a poet. The Lobos ask to be listened to carefully—if you can stop dancing long enough to do so. And the more I listen to Good Morning Aztlán, the more I like it. It’s like a tour of wonderful musical forms led by a group of superb musicians who are determined to bring joy into your life.