* * * 1/2
Except for the addition in 1982 of saxophonist Steve Berlin, Los Lobos' lineup has remained a constant for more than 25 years. But its sound has undergone a sea change. On early albums such as "How Will the Wolf Survive?" and "By the Light of the Moon," the East L.A. band was an earnest, socially conscious roots-rock band with most of its influences--swamp blues, classic rock, Mexican norten~o and folk music--in the right place.
Then, Los Lobos hooked up with the production team of Mitchell Froom and Tchad Blake on 1992's "Kiko" and became venturesome studio tinkerers, mixing up fugitive sounds and ethnic styles like inspired chemists. Since "Kiko," the quintet has remained committed to its darker, more abstract impulses.
On "This Time" (due in stores Tuesday), the group places a greater emphasis on grooves and lets its melodies recede into the background a bit. The drums are high up in the mix, and David Hidalgo's and Cesar Rosas' guitars are slaves to the rhythm, pushing the grooves along with circular riffs and rhythmic counterpunches.
On "Oh Yeah," an Afro Cuban beat slithers around Rosas' menacingly soulful vocal, while "Runaway With You" is a spooked shuffle. "La Playa's" indeterminate avant-Latina mutation sounds like something tropicalia pioneer Tom Ze might conjure up.
The most groove-driven album of the band's career, "This Time"--full of spare, intimate sketches about lost chances and newfound hope--finds Los Lobos heading into its second quarter-century as creatively restless as ever.
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