Los Lobos: Kiko (1992)


A Cinco De Mayo special: unsung Latino uppity music.

Purchase this album: Amazon

THE SCENE: As we last read in the Bobby McFerrin entry, a number one record can get a musician a temporary “autonomy pass “. After scoring a fluke number one single in 1987 with a rock-by-numbers cover of Richie Valens “La Bamba”, Los Angeles roots-rockers Los Lobos essentially refused to record anything that generic ever again. Each album became slightly more eccentric than the last, culminating in 1992’s dreamy experimental Kiko.

Every song calmly shares space with the ghosts of Los Angeles, back when it was known as Mexico. Draped with touches of traditional Mexican instruments the band solidly locks into gritty gray introspection (“Wake up Delores”) and weary pink dirges (“When The Circus Comes”).

Drums shock and rattle like hollow skulls of ancestors in the hypnotic “Angels With Dirty Faces” and transmit secret messages in “Wicked Rain”. The surreal lullaby “Kiko And The Lavender Moon” charmingly mirrors the quixotic aloofness of housecats:

Kiko and the lavender moon
Out dancing making faces at
A big black cat
And then he flies
Up to the wall
Stands on one foot
Doesn’t even fall
Dance and dance
Still dancing till
He goes off to sleep

He always sleeps
Till the sun goes down
He never wakes
Till no one’s around
He never stops
Can’t catch his breath
It’s always there
Scares him to death

This curious waltz became the centerpiece of their greatest work…

THE FALLOUT: …and their poorest seller. Expensively recorded and indifferently promoted Kiko flatlined at retail. Los Lobos recorded only one additional album for their label before being dropped. The album did become a fan favorite, and in 2005 the band responded by playing concerts featuring Kiko in its entirety.

Kiko is available from Amazon, and you can sample tracks here:

A landmark of American music, Kiko seeps into your pores like smoke from fine incense and lingers with distinct pleasure.

See you next Wednesday.

NEXT WEEK: Funkadelic goes out with an electric bang.

Seu Jorge: Cru (2005)


Baby, he likes it raw.

Purchase this album: Amazon

THE SCENE: In 2004 Brazilian singer and guitarist Seu Jorge enigmatically appeared in the movie The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, softly strumming Portuguese versions of David Bowie songs. This unexpected profile boost raised expectations for his second studio album, the sparse and haunting Cru.

Cru means “raw” in Portuguese, and Jorge created an album of raw emotions and stark ornamentation. Centered around sharp acoustic strums, samba beats and his oaken voice Cru creates a stunning force through willful under-production.

Bem Querer (My Dear) is a sunny swim in a pool of liquid guitar, while the romantic Una Mujer floats upon a bed of near inaudible beats and electronica. Tive Razão {TV Reloaded} (Voltair Mix) mixes wordless breaths and church organ, sounding like a man pleading for his soul at a funeral march.

Lyrically Jorge is concerned with the urban extremism of Brazilian culture. He shakes a jungle-like fist in the anti-fake boob rant Mania de Peitão (Large Chested Mania), and he reps his childhood home from the musical-filled slums with Eu Sou Favela (I Am Favela).

Cru was a well-respected hit in Brazil…

THE FALLOUT: …but America slept on it, as it does with all non-English language albums. Unless it’s reggaeton. Cru got some critical love but seems destined to remain a cult favorite.

Cru is available worldwide from Amazon, and you can sample tracks here:

Growling and coiled like a panther, Cru commands by charm and grace.

See you next Wednesday.

NEXT WEEK: The godfather of techno is a brother. Check the hidden genius of Derrick May.

Kid Creole and the Coconuts: Wise Guy (1982)


Where your mai-tai is always refreshed.

Purchase this album: Amazon

THE SCENE: Oh Europe! You lover of American culture you! How thankful we are that you support jazz and techno and comic books and interpretive dance cause we here in America need a helping hand to validate our own greatness! We love us some Hendrix but damn if he didn’t have to go to England to get a leg up.

This outright dismissal of homemade brilliance happens less in New York, and its downtown music scene of the early ’80s is where the zoot-suited Kid Creole and The Coconuts made their mark. Their revelatory blend of swinging salsa, frenetic funk and big band Broadway show tunes populated their 1981 album Fresh Fruit in Foreign Places, which found only a tiny audience. For their next album they turned up the gloss without losing the crunch, resulting in the dazzling Wise Guy.

An audio vacation cruise to exotic unknown locales, each cut shimmers and shakes with lusty abandon. Much like the Kid himself all the songs are danceable, humorous, nuanced and oh-so-sharp. The calypso and soca-fueled “Annie, I’m Not Your Daddy” cleverly shows off the lighter side of pre-DNA paternity testing (“cause if I was in your blood, then you wouldn’t be so ugly”).

The romantic and dangerous “The Love We Have” mixes cold strings and warm horns into a frothy jungle drink of icy confusion. “I’m A Wonderful Thing, Baby” features a subdued swagger, its rippling muted guitars supporting a laundry list of the Kids’ liaisons.

Straight outta the speakeasy slides “Stool Pigeon”, a gangster-hard cautionary tale of ratting out to the Feds:

If you wanna squeal, said the FBI
We can make a deal, make it worth your while
So he told it all and in return
He got a credit card and a Thunderbird
He got a spanking new identity
And a condo down in Miami
He bought a plane, a boat and jewelry
But he couldn’t buy any company

Deep grooves with dark themes cloaked in confectionary glaze, how could anyone resist?

THE FALLOUT: Like Jimi Hendrix and James Baldwin, Kid Creole and the Coconuts blew up in England big time. Retitled Tropical Gangsters, it was a top five album, produced three hit singles and stayed on the charts for nine months. But back in the States it fell off the chart faster than a baby bird out of a malformed nest. Except for the rare dance hit, Kid Creole and the Coconuts never broke through to most of America.

Wise Guy is available from Amazon and you can sample tracks here:

Groundbreaking in its world music synthesis, Wise Guy dances alone.

See you next Wednesday.

NEXT WEEK: Click into the future with Spacek.