CD reviews |

CD reviews

Los Lobos, “The Town and the City”

Available at All That Jazz for $15.98

The incessant, ambling kick drum that opens Los Lobos’ “The Town and the City” beats a declaration of survival.

The album’s opening track, “The Valley,” draws in listeners with each mesmerizing, psychedelic verse like ocean tides pulling grains of sand.

And like the tides, Los Lobos persists – the Los Angeles band’s most recent release arrived 30 years after its first recording – and continues to sound fresh, as Steamboat Springs residents discovered when the band performed a free concert on the mountain this summer.

“The Town and the City” features the band’s mix of Mexican- folk- and blues-influenced rock, a signature that draws comparisons to Santana, though often not for the right reasons.

Although Los Lobos is among the few successful bilingual American rock ‘n’ roll acts, a characteristic Santana shares, the band’s roots are based in the workers’ movements of the 1970s, rather than in the hippie movement of the preceding generation.

Los Lobos’ first album, “Si Se Puede,” is the soundtrack of the United Farm Workers, and songs on “The Town and the City,” such as “The Valley” and “The Road to Gila Bend,” continue the band’s tradition of socially conscious songwriting – providing hymns to blue-collar laborers and immigrants.

The album is not without its share of lighthearted fare, though. Songs such as “Two Dogs and a Bone” and “Free Up” offer foils for the heavier lyrics with their upbeat mood.

The lyrics aren’t the only contrasting feature of the album. “The Town and the City” is an appropriate title for an album so ingrained in contrasts.

There are Latin numbers (“Chuco’s Cumbia,” “Luna,” “No Puedo Más”) followed by blues tunes (“Little Things”) that sit next to classic rock compositions (“Don’t Ask Why”).

If there’s a fountain of sonic youth, Los Lobos may have found it.

Rating: “The Town and the City” proves age doesn’t matter, at least when it comes to Los Lobos.

Diana Krall, “From This Moment On”

Available at All That Jazz for $14.98

Diana Krall’s voice has quite a powerful effect on the ear.

It can transform a stormy afternoon from a dreary day stuck indoors into a welcome hour of relaxation, with the soothing sound of raindrops as a supplemental instrument to her backing band.

Although Krall’s 2004 release, “The Girl in the Other Room,” which features songs co-written by Krall and her husband, Elvis Costello, was celebrated, the Canadian jazz singer decided to look back to the classics for her follow-up album (not counting her 2005 holiday release) rather than releasing more of her compositions.

The Canadian jazz singer’s latest release, “From This Moment On,” is a collection of standards from songwriters such as Ira and George Gershwin (“I Was Doing Alright”), Irving Berlin (“Isn’t This A Lovely Day”) and Johnny Mercer (“Day In, Day Out”).

The result is a romantic album that would perfectly accompany an evening with a significant other or, in the absence of, a screenplay by Nora Ephron (the mind behind “When Harry Met Sally” and “Sleepless In Seattle”).

“From This Moment On” takes 11 classics and rejuvenates them for a time that seems to have forgotten how a romantic song should sound. Krall reminds listeners why Beyonce and Justin Timberlake attempts just don’t cut it.

Although Krall’s voice takes the center stage on “From This Moment On,” she wisely allows her band to take the spotlight when the time is right, serving piano, saxophone and guitar solos.

As outstanding as her voice is, without the performance of her large backing band, “From This Moment On” wouldn’t do justice to these songs.

Rating: Sit back, relax, and imagine walking through Central Park in autumn.

Jedi Mind Tricks, “Servants in Heaven, Kings in Hell”

Available at All That Jazz for $16.98

Philadelphia hip-hop duo Jedi Mind Tricks is one of the heavier-hitting groups in rap.

Noted for the vocals of Vinnie Paz, whose style could be compared to that of DMX, the group’s songs are characterized by dark beats, coarse lyrics and militant delivery.

It’s an equation used by many rap groups, but Jedi Mind Tricks stands apart from the rest of the crowd, mainly because of the other half of the group, Stoupe.

As producer and DJ, Stoupe creates hypnotic, engaging beats that provide a luxury vehicle for Paz’s vocals to ride in.

The product is similar to a Mafioso driving a Rolls Royce.

Despite the conflict of an intimidating, sometimes gruesome, man accompanying a beautiful masterpiece of engineering and design, the two seem made for each other.

The duo’s most recent album, “Servants In Heaven, Kings In Hell,” perfectly employs this tandem.

Its opener, “Put Em in the Grave,” with a melody that instantly conjures scenes of “The Godfather” films, reveals another important element of the group – its interest in standing on a lyrical soapbox.

The song’s refrain, “You ain’t gotta go to church to get to know your god,” on the surface is a line that fits Paz’s lyrical threats to other rappers – that his flows will put them in the grave – but, considering other subjects covered on the album, it’s hard not to take the line as a religious statement.

The album tackles heavy topics such as slave labor (“Shadow Business”), suicide (“Razorblade Salvation”) and war (“Uncommon Valor: A Vietnam Story”).

Even though “Uncommon Valor: A Vietnam Story” is ill-planned – writing a song about a war that ended when its composer was a child lacks ingenuity, why not write about the conflict in Iraq? – the album’s lyrics of substance, something many mainstream rappers have no interest in, are refreshing.

Rating: Jedi Mind Tricks likely is too hard for casual rap listeners, but fans of the genre should check out “Servants in Heaven, Kings in Hell.”

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