‘Llego Navidad:’ A Los Lobos Merry Christmas and more

Tahoe Onstage
Los Lobos played on a snowy night in February at the Crystal Bay Casino.
— Tim Parsons / Tahoe Onstage

In typical fashion, Los Lobos has wrapped up a completely atypical Christmas album. Tear it open, and “Llego Navidad” rings joyfully with songs that are far from the kind of novelty gifts we shove under the bed the day after the big day.

This lively music was made to light up homes all through the year, year after year. “Llego Navidad” is simply the new Los Lobos album, which is never anything near simple. It ranks high with any of the 17 tremendously wide-ranging studio sets the quintet has produced, beginning in 1977 with “Del Este De Los Angeles” (Just Another Band From East L.A.).

A good part of the reason lies in the incredible fact that the same four men who united in 1973 are still at it quite avidly, along with sax and keyboards player Steve Berlin, lifted in 1984 from the Blasters and the fifth highly musical wolf ever since. Most notably, these consummate players play!

“Llego Navidad” (Christmas is Here) offers a gripping mix of traditional Mexican tunes, Tex-Mex covers, and one Ritchie Valens-inspired original, performed brilliantly with mostly acoustic instruments. “La Rama” (The Branch) ignites the album in the style of Veracruz folk music known as son jarocho. Its shimmering melody and festive singing instantly invigorate the body and soul. Picture the boughs of the tree shaking, the tinsel glistening.

“Reluciente Sol” (Brilliant Sun) follows suit, a salsa that beams with bliss, its bottom heated by Berlin’s honking saxophone. Then it’s on to a Southwestern, accordion-driven take on Freddy Fender’s “It’s Christmas Time in Texas,” sung from the heart by David Hidalgo. The sprightly pace of it matches Hidalgo’s absolutely ageless voice.

The rambling ranchera, “Amarga Navidad” (Bitter Christmas), features Cesar Rosas vividly in the spotlight, and the cumbia, “Arbolito de Navidad” (Christmas Tree), bounces with irresistibly quirky Mexican panache. Of the four obvious Christmas songs, one draws the listener right into the spirit with its reindeer name-dropping and shouts of “Ole Ole!” Through any other hands or voices, “Donde Esta Santa Claus” (Where is Santa Claus) might seem goofy. But customized by Los Lobos, it becomes a classy, soulful, tons-of-fun experience.

Los Lobos’ typical, atypical fashion is really never less than that, and it never belies its roots. Place this five stars of an album on the top of the tree. Merry Christmas! 

– Tom Clarke

‘Llego Navidad’ 
Los Lobos
Label:
Rhino
Release: Oct. 4, 2019

Tahoe Onstage
Louie Perez and David Hidalgo dream in blue at Lake Tahoe.

ABOUT Tom Clarke

Tom Clarke
From pre-war blues to the bluegrass of the Virginia hills, Tom Clarke has a passion for most any kind of deep-rooted American music, and has been writing about it for 23 years. He’s particularly fond of anything from Louisiana, and the 45-year timelines and ever-growing family trees of The Allman Brothers Band and Los Lobos. Tom’s reviews and articles have appeared in BluesPrint, the King Biscuit Times, Hittin’ The Note, Blues Revue, Elmore, Blues Music Magazine, and now, Tahoe Onstage. Tom and his wife Karen raised four daughters in upstate New York. They split their time between the Adirondack Mountains and coastal South Carolina.

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