It’s easy to take Los Lobos for granted. The L.A. band has been around for 36 years with the same lineup (minus two or three years off for side projects). They earned their critical reputation with the 1984 album How Will the Wolf Survive? (It also happened to be one of the first albums helmed by super-producer T-Bone Burnett.) Three years later, Los Lobos had a number-one hit with a cover of Richie Valens’s “La Bamba,” recorded for the soundtrack to the biopic of the same name. In all, they’ve released 18 albums, none of which was less than very good. Since “La Bamba,” the band has been revered by its loyal audience, respected by musicians and critics, and ignored by pretty much everyone else.
That’s a mistake because Los Lobos is an exceptional band. A lot of artists try to be eclectic, experimenting with different styles. But Los Lobos is one of the few bands that sounds equally at home playing any one of a half-dozen styles — old-fashioned rock ’n’ roll, modern rock, R&B, Tex-Mex, and traditional Mexican folk styles. Even the 1992 album Kiko, which is widely praised by rock critics for its experimental sound, has plenty of traditional elements.
This year’s Grammy-nominated Tin Can Trust similarly puts rock and roots music through unusual production. Check out the song “On Main Street,” which sounds something like the Drifters’ 1963 hit “On Broadway” — if it had been produced by Brian Eno. The disc also features a cover of “West L.A. Fadeaway,” where Steve Berlin’s booming saxophone makes the Grateful Dead song sound almost like the late, lamented ’90s band Morphine.
Los Fabulocos also performs.
LOS LOBOS: Belly Up Tavern, Thursday, December 16, 8 p.m. 858-481-8140. $35 to $37.