Colossal Head

Los Lobos

Warner Brothers Records, 1996

REVIEW BY: Sean McCarthy


It's like going from a wide stretch of starlight desert range in the midnight hour to a smokey blues bar where the lights are turned down low and the beer is flowing aplenty. That's the best way I can describe the change that Los Lobos underwent from their heralded 1992 album Kiko to 1996's Colossal Head.

Kiko made about every critic's best-of list for 1992. It was a beautiful, mythical album that put any claim that Los Lobos were only that La Bamba song band back in 1987 to rest. As great as Kiko was, I thought there were times that the album was over-produced. Any hint of over-production is non-existent on Colossal Head. After working on the soundtracks of my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250 Desperado and Feeling Minnesota, the band recorded Colossal Head in six short weeks.

Los Lobos' rich 20-year history with each other has paid off. In their history, they've managed to weave R&B, hippie rock ala the Grateful Dead, straightforward rock and the sound of a great local bar band effortlessly into their albums. While Colossal Head may sound like it was recorded in a basement, not a studio, the inspiration is there in every single track.

The album kicks off with the murky "Revolution". The soft, muddled bass of Conrad Lozano perfectly plays off of David Hidalgo's blues-inspired vocals. The album then kicks into a full out jam session with "Mas Y Mas," an instant staple to Los Lobos' smoking live shows.

The traditional Hispanic sound of "Maricela" is about the only song on Colossal Head that fits with Los Lobos' heritage. The rest of the album feels as if the band took a road trip to Chicago and New Orleans and took in some serious blues acts. The instrumental closer, "Buddy Ebsen Loves The Night Time" would sound perfect in a dirty Chicago blues bar. The rest of Colossal Head is far harder to categorize. From the experimental steel guitar slide of "Everybody Loves A Train" to the pensive ballad "Little Japan," Los Lobos brings in Hispanic, blues and deep-grooving R&B almost seamlessly.

In an album that's packed with highlights, "Manny's Bones" is the standout song of the lot. Louis Perez lays down a funeral-type percussion march as Hidalgo and Cesar Rojas play a swinging, bad ass guitar refrain. The chorus sounds something like a sing along Irish wake song. "...and let the water take him to his home." The water imagery that Los Lobos can give the listener is astounding.

Colossal Head is in many ways superior to their acclaimed Kiko. Instead of taking the full production approach, Los Lobos took a risk and made an album that seemed to pride itself on its imperfections. While it may not be their most groundbreaking album, all you have to do is go to one of their concerts and see the people that this album would attract:blues lovers, Phish followers, Latin music enthusiasts and fans who just want to dance their asses off. Pretty damn impressive accomplishment if you ask me.

Rating: A-

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© 1997 Sean McCarthy and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Warner Brothers Records, and is used for informational purposes only.