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Los Lobos' Cesar Rosas releases solo live album -- better late than never

Los Lobos' Cesar Rosas releases solo live album -- better late than never
Singer, guitariist and songwriter Cesar Rosas of Los Lobos has just released a solo live album "Live From the Galaxy" recorded in 1999 at the then-Galaxy Theatre in Santa Ana. (Ed Spinelli)

As any working person discovers sooner or later, the demands of a day job sometimes force certain projects of passion to the back burner for a little while.

So maybe Los Lobos’ singer-guitarist-songwriter Cesar Rosas can be forgiven for letting more than 16 years slip by before putting out “Live From the Galaxy,” a bristling solo live set that was recorded in 1999 in Orange County but only released for the world to hear in December.

“Way back when, when I put my first solo studio record out, I didn’t know all this stuff was going to happen,” he said of his 1995 album “Soul Disguise.” “Friends and fans were always pushing me to release more of my own music.”

Four years later, he mounted a solo tour that encompassed 30 dates across the country, focusing for the first time on the music he was making apart from the critically acclaimed group colloquially known as “just another band from East L.A.”

“It was the first time I’d ever done anything like that,” he said from his home in Walnut, near the juncture of the 60 and 57 freeways, where he also maintains a home studio that he keeps active with solo recordings, work on his contributions to Los Lobos’ albums, and with various musician friends who come to work there.

Because of his lifelong passion for the technical side of the music business, in particular the ins and outs of recorded music, Rosas decided to document the live shows on that solo tour.

“Out of the 30 shows, I recorded six, and this [performance at the former Galaxy Theatre in Santa Ana] happened to be the best audio of all those six shows,” he said.

Rather than cherry-pick different performances from various tour stops, he assembled a full set from one particularly inspired show. The album is enlivened by expansive stretches in which Rosas unleashes his skills with the electric guitar, and engages in generous exchanges with keyboardist John Kito and accordionist Jimmy Baca, all of whom get powerhouse support from drummer Aaron Ballesteros and bassist Steve Falomir.

Over the years, Rosas said, “I kept listening to it, and I kept thinking, ‘Wow, this whole night, it seems to work—everything from the technical part of the recording to the vibe, it all seemed to work.”

Calendar is premiering one track, "Little Heaven," which Rosas wrote with Leroy Preston. It’s a propulsive rocker in the mainstream mold of a lot of Lobos/Bruce Springsteen energetic rockers, built around the theme of two people finding a way to come together.

“It talks about a relationship between this couple, a little bit of heaven—nothing too deep,” said Rosas, whose signature goatee, dark shades and thick black hair are highlighted on the artist illustration used for the album cover. “I think it’s a good rock song, and it could be a good radio song.”

It’s among eight originals out of 11 tracks on “Live From the Galaxy,” most of the originals drawn from “Soul Disguise” on that long-ago tour.

Those are supplemented by three revealing choices from other artists: Ike Turner’s R&B chestnut “You've Got to Lose,” Booker T. & the Mg’s “Hip Hug-Her” and Doug Sahm & the Sir Douglas Quintet’s “She’s About a Mover.”

They reveal Rosas’ grounding in American roots music of various stripes, from blues and R&B to soul and country-rock.

As the member of Los Lobos’ who helps keep the band most closely tied to its roots in Mexican music, it’s a bit of a surprise that there’s only one Spanish-language song on the live album, “Estoy Sentado Aqui,” especially given Rosas’ love for singing en espanol.

“All the stuff we’ve ever done in Spanish, all the folk stuff, has been steered by me,” Rosas said. “I like getting back to my roots. I really miss it. This is like, who I am.”

To that end, he’s finishing work on an all Spanish-language solo album he plans to release in May. In that Lobos just released its latest studio effort, “Gates of Gold,” in September, and typically takes several years between albums while touring and attending to the band members’ families and outside projects, Rosas is taking advantage of a window of time available to pursue his own music more fully.

“It’s a project I’m very fond of,” he said.

As for Los Lobos' recent nomination for induction into the Rock And Roll Hall of Fame, Rosas said, "We were just thrilled to be nominated. Seriously, I got excited for about 10 minutes, then forgot about it, not that I didn’t appreciate it." Although the band didn't make the final cut for induction on its first nomination, Rosas said, "Maybe it’ll come around again down the road. Who knows?"

For now, he’s also looking at mounting another solo tour to focus attention on “Live From the Galaxy” and the forthcoming studio album, which he said he’s been chipping away at in the studio for several years.

“Here again, it was another encouragement from our fans, who kept saying ‘Hey, when we going to hear some more stuff from you?’ I’m really digging it.”

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