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Los Lobos: Dream in Blue by Chris Morris – Book Review

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Los Lobos is a complicated band – their merger of different styles of traditional Mexican folk music with American rock ‘n’ roll and their further exploration into sonic soundscapes have made them one of pop music’s most distinctive and versatile acts. A band like Los Lobos needs a writer with significant depth and analytical skills to examine their work and rock critic/historian Chris Morris is tailor made for the job.

Morris has written a history of the band, not a biography of its individual members, than spans their over four-decade career. As teenagers, the musicians that would become Los Lobos were no different than most young men of their era – they enjoyed pot, beer, Led Zeppelin, Cream, and r&b music. The band was formed in 1973 under the leadership of Frank Gonzalez, who had the original concept of performing Mexican folk music with traditional instruments. Los Lobos spent the 70’s based in L.A.’s Hispanic community, performing wherever they could – at schools, restaurants, weddings, etc. (Founding member Gonzalez was deposed after a few years due to his alcohol issues).

In 1980, Los Lobos made their first foray into the Los Angeles punk scene, opening for John Lydon’s Public Image Ltd. Still performing traditional Mexican folk music, the punk rock audience rained saliva and beer bottles upon the band. Deeming the event as not a failure, but as a challenge, Los Lobos then transitioned into performing as a more traditional rock band, although one with a distinctly Hispanic flavor. A mutual admiration between Los Lobos and The Blasters helped to improve the visibility of the band and resulted in their first album in 1983.

Morris deftly chronicles the band’s recording career, more often than not letting the musicians (and producers) provide the historical perspective. He makes no grand pronouncements and indulges in no hyperbole. He is as equally generous in complimenting their successes as he is direct in addressing their failures. His writing is concise and evocative, well researched without being unnecessarily academic or fussy. Describing one of their albums, Morris concludes, “The band plays with tremendous assurance; and no showboating.” The same could be said of his writing.

I will undoubtedly read this book more than once, to dig deeper into the music of Los Lobos, the history of Chicano music and to revisit the late ‘70s/early ‘80s punk rock scene. Morris ends the book with a section on “Listening, Reading, and Viewing” that covers everything from Tex Mex music to Captain Beefheart, demonstrating the myriad of influences on the band and giving the reader a chance to benefit from his research. If you are fan of Los Lobos, Hispanic culture, rock ‘n’ roll history or of good rock writing, definitely put this book on your Xmas list.

Grade – A

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