The Ride – Los Lobos
BY JOE NICK PATOSKI
When it comes to defining American music over the past quarter century, no band comes close to Los Lobos. It would be understandable, given their long track record, if they slacked off now and then, as The Ride’s lengthy lineup of guest artists including Cafe Tacuba, Bobby Womack, Ruben Blades, Tom Waits, Elvis Costello, Richard Thompson, Mavis Staples and Garth Hudson seems to suggest. (What? Rob Thomas wasn’t available?). But fears of sliding into complacency are alleviated from the first throaty honk of Steve Berlin’s bari sax on "La Venganza de Los Pelados," the opening track on which Los Lobos flash their Mexicanismo credentials all the way through the last note of "Chains of Love." Sure the guests gussy up the proceedings, particularly Elvis’ turn on "Matter of Time" and Mavis Staples’ soaring vocals on "Someday." But it’s tracks like "Rita"Ñall atmosphere, introspection, with no outside help whatsoever-that make this more than just another album from just another band from East L.A.. With Los Lobos in charge, music doesn’t get any better than this in these United States.
Hotwalker – Tom Russell
BY JOE NICK PATOSKI
Outsider art commands bully pulpit "I’m a frustrated writer," Tom Russell confessed to me a couple years ago. He finally did something about it, using his bully pulpit as a singer-songwriter to explain to listeners about the country, blues, folk, jazz and gospel he was exposed to growing up in Los Angeles and later in New York and how outsiders, notably the poet Charles Bukowski and the circus performer and poet Little Jack Horton, influenced him and his music. Hotwalker is hardly an album in the traditional sense but rather a pastiche of spoken-word readings-including the voices of Russell, Horton, Bukowski, Jack Kerouac, Edward Abbey, Ramblin’ Jack Elliot, Harry Partch, the Reverend Baybie Hoover, Virginia Brown and Lenny Bruce-and atmospheric background music elegantly articulated by Russell’s guitarist sidekick Andrew Hardin, with a few songs sprinkled in between. From the background circus calliope accompanying Horton’s colorful pronouncements (his telling of Bukowski and him driving a locomotive engine is hilarious) to descriptions of Dave Van Ronk’s apartment by Sheridan Square to his primitive paintings that decorate the CD, Hotwalker digs deep into the spirit of Outsider Art as expressed on canvas, as poetry, in books or as a record.