The Neighborhood In the pop music industry's pigeonholed universe, ethnicity is a double-edged sword. Groups rooted outside the mainstream are often celebrated for their novelty and credibility,… The Neighborhood In the pop music industry's pigeonholed universe, ethnicity is a double-edged sword. Groups rooted outside the mainstream are often celebrated for their novelty and credibility,… Los Lobos Rock
Music Review

The Neighborhood (1990)

EW's GRADE
B+

Details Lead Performance: Los Lobos; Genre: Rock

In the pop music industry's pigeonholed universe, ethnicity is a double-edged sword. Groups rooted outside the mainstream are often celebrated for their novelty and credibility, yet stuck in a ghetto of limited, fringe appeal.

Los Angeles' Los Lobos based their sound on a distinctive blend of rock & roll and influences from their Mexican-American heritage. They attained commercial success by playing the songs of Ritchie Valens, and won a 1983 Grammy for best Mexican-American performance. But while their latest album is filled with ethnic flavoring, very little of it hails from south of the border.

Since making 1988's all-Spanish-language La Pistola y El Corazón, Los Lobos have transmuted into something of a multicultural Everyband. On The Neighborhood, the quintet portions out Cajun, country, Chicago blues, and gritty R&B, all with easy skill and conviction (not to mention singer- guitarist David Hidalgo's striking violin contributions). The results are, to say the least, diverse.

''Down on the Riverbed'' has a swampy Little Feat/New Orleans feel; ''I Walk Alone'' lays blistering guitar into a hip-shaking boogie. Following ''Deep Dark Hole'' (nonsense lyrics sung over a track that resembles Johnny Cash records), there's a frantic cover of Staxman Jimmy McCracklin's ''Georgia Slop'' that twists like crazy. The record also includes tender acoustic lullabyes (''Little John of God,'' ''Be Still''), a crisp bit of Western country-rock (''The Giving Tree''), and a devastating horn-tinged Chicago blues (''I Can't Understand,'' cowritten by the venerable Willie Dixon). Amazingly, none of these efforts sound hollow or clumsy — Los Lobos grab the styles firmly and make them sound like their life's work. Despite the disconcerting lack of focus, what's in this musical melting pot is mighty tasty. B+

Originally posted Sep 07, 1990 Published in issue #30 Sep 07, 1990 Order article reprints