Thursday, November 12, 2009

461. How will the wolf survive? -I’m not sure but I predict he’ll outlast the piano accordion.


Album: How will the wolf survive.

Artist: Los Lobos.

Year: 1984

Genre: Tex-mex, mariachi, blues-based country rock.


Tracks.


  1. Don't Worry Baby
  2. A Matter of Time
  3. Corrido #1
  4. Our Last Night
  5. The Breakdown
  6. I Got Loaded
  7. Serenata Nortena
  8. Evangeline
  9. I Got to Let You Know
  10. Lil' King of Everything
  11. Will the Wolf Survive?


I’ve found some albums on this countdown really hard to get to the end of. There are releases I’ve reviewed that have been so painful I’ve struggled to listen to the whole thing once, let alone four times. Will the Wolf survive was tricky to get through but not because I couldn't get into it but because I get into the opening track so much I find it hard to get out of. Don’t Worry baby is a magnificent piece of Rock and Roll and ranks up there with the best songs I’ve heard on this list so far. It’s got everything a great song needs, a magnificent riff, belted vocals, stinging lead breaks and an outstanding groove. I never heard this on the radio when I was growing up and if I had I might actually bother listening to radio stations today. I’ve heard this song hundreds of times but even so when I came to review this oh-so familiar album I still had to repeat it a few times.


It’s a mystery to me that Los Lobos aren’t better known. There’s no doubt you’ve heard them. Most people who think they’re listening to Richie Valens singing La Bamba are actually hearing the version recorded by Los Lobos for the movie biopic of the same name. It’s still their biggest song and shining moment in the sun. It’s also a tiny fraction of what they can do. In addition to the usual instruments a gigging rock band needs to play, The Wolves (to translate their name into English) also feature a talented sax player and an outstanding piano accordionist. Now I know what you’re thinking at this point- does any band need an accordion player, talented or otherwise? Have you ever listened to an album and thought “Not bad but it could really be great if only they added some accordion?” No of course you haven’t. But listening to Will the Wolf Survive you might start to be won over by the world’s most foolish musical instrument. Dave Hildago can really play that thing and if you don't believe me ask Bob Dylan who uses Hidalgo as his accordion player of choice when his album's require one (which lately is more often than you'd think).

While their eclectic instruments would make Los Lobos stand out on their own they also bring a range of influences to their tunes which nobody else in music was featuring at the time. In addition to listening to bar-room boogie the wolves were also ingesting traditional Mexican and Spanish music that was part of their cultural heritage. Mariachi and other musical styles blend into their musical framework without ever competing with the rock side of their personalities.

But their influences and instruments would count for nothing if the boys couldn’t play or write a good tune. Thankfully they can and Will the Wolf Survive doesn’t contain a weak moment. In addition to the opening track they produce some great ballads, some very smooth rock and a song sung in Spanish which sounds like it really kicks along when played at Mexican weddings (although I’m sure they sing the phrase “Death Star” at one point so perhaps it was written for the marriages of Mexican Storm troopers). Apparently earlier in their career Los Lobos opened concerts for Public Image Limited who wouldn’t have stood a chance compared to the live power that is the wolves in the full awesomness of their live act. They release great albums but they’re fantastic live.

Personally I’d be including more Los Lobos albums in this countdown than the writers of Rolling Stone have chosen. It’s place here makes me wonder if there is a bit of a policy in this countdown which dictates what gets in. It seems to me that there are quite a few important bands who they’ve decided should be represented so they’ve thrown their debut album somewhere in the lower reaches. Most Lobos fans love this album but would regard 1992’s Kiko as a stronger set of songs. Reviewers seem to agree. But for some reason this debut is their one album in the countdown. There are other artists whose fans could make the same complaint.


Highlight: Don’t worry baby.

Lowlight: Lil King of everything. Not a bad track just a bit of a inconsequential instrumental.

Influenced by: Oooh… hows this for a list: John Lee Hooker, Country and western, The Grateful Dead, mariachi music, traditional Spanish ballads, bar room boogie.

Influenced: Los Lonely Boys. Definitely a band worth checking out if you get the chance.

Favourite Amazon Customer Review Quote: "During my spring housekeeping (I know - it's a little late), I discovered this CD gathering dust. I bought How Will The Lone Wolf Survive? on the strength of the cover song `Will The Lone Wolf Survive?' The song is a bouncing jangle-guitar light rocker reminding me of Bruce Springsteen. The other tracks are mediocre Tex-Mex boogey-woogey and honky-tonk which I wound expect to hear from a local bar band. `Don't Worry Baby,' `I Got Loaded,' and `Evangeline' are simplistic boogey-woogey tunes with different lyrics. `Corrido #1' and `Serenata Nortena' are about as exciting as mariachi music played by a three-piece combo in a franchised Mexican restaurant. Terribly annoying is the ever present accordion (a musical instrument which does absolutely nothing for me). The never ending four-note country bass lines (Our Last Night, The Breakdown) bore me to tears. It's tough to pick the least credible track, but the title goes to `I Got To Let You Know.' The song has a brief saxophone line repeated 100 times. Is this supposed to be a polka? Now I'm wandering why this CD has been taking valuable space in my music collection since 1984. Time for the trash."

-The only negative review on the site. And it still gave it two stars.

So do the Wolves sink their teeth into you or are you hoping the Wolf won't survive? Let me know below.

1 comment:

  1. Well put, although my accordian playing wife was not so impressed with this review. Personally I would have appreciated the inclusion by RS of 'By the light of the moon' and 'The Neighborhood'. One time one night, and the Hardest time are brilliant snapshots in time of urban Americana plus my baby's gone is just flat out magnificent. Ditto for the title track from the neighborhood.

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