Los Lonely Boys: There's a Reason They're Lonely
Ken Kase
7/19/2004 10:03:30 PM

Latin-influenced rock has a rich tradition that has produced some vital and influential music. Ritchie Valens, Carlos Santana and Los Lobos are cultural figures who cast towering shadows on the American musical landscape. Valens died before he realized his full potential, but set the ball rolling. Santana made history by fusing exotic rhythms with searing guitar work rooted in the Hispanic guitar tradition. Los Lobos continues to make some of the most exciting albums in rock. And then there are Los Lonely Boys...

Los Lonely Boys eponymously titled album (Sony) has been the subject of much media hype. They have been smartly marketed, penetrated radio, scored celebrity endorsements (they're allegedly Willie Nelson's favorite band) and maintain a consistent presence in popular magazines and on VH-1. Their debut, however, fails to satisfy on almost every level.

The band consists of three brothers from rural western Texas. All are competent musicians, especially guitarist Henry Garza who, although he has yet to find his own voice, can conjure up unmistakable riffs and playing styles set forth by players such as Santana, Stevie Ray Vaughn and Eric Clapton. His brothers, bassist Jojo and drummer Ringo (!) complete a fine rhythm section that is certainly the envy of every bar band in the southwest.

The songs they create, however, are mundane, routine re-workings of the shadow-throwers they so obviously adore while adding nothing original to make them distinctive. The album ultimately fails from a reliance on conservative song structures, classic rock clichés and dumb, uninspiring lyrics. Not surprisingly, this music has been embraced by millions of people.

At best, songs such as "Seniorita", "Crazy Dream" and "Tell Me Why" have great guitar breaks that alternate with moronic lyrics. One finds oneself looking at one's watch waiting for the next guitar solo to save the tunes from Hallmark-card-type conventionality. This listening experience is the musical equivalent of enjoying a fine "Where's Waldo?" book. Once you find him, it's a thrill, but his surroundings become instantly irrelevant and eventually the book ends up buried beneath a pile of junk mail somewhere because the gag wears thin after a couple of reads.

"Dime Mi Amor" sounds promising for about 18 seconds. The band sings in Spanish, setting up the tune with a nice intro, but then the lyrics switch to English and the whole atmosphere is killed. Had they done it entirely in Spanish, it would have been easier to take. To non-Spanish speaking folks, the opening is romantic and robust, but then you find out how dumb the English words are and it’s a big buzz kill. Why subject yourself to such pap as “Tell me you love me again / Say I’m your man / I’ll do anything that I can / Ooh baby ‘cause you know I stand by my woman, yeah”? Most of the lyrics on the album are like that. Great lyrics are rarely a staple of pop music, but lyrical shortcomings can usually be rendered tolerable if the music packs a punch. The guitar solo presents another fine Waldo moment, if you can make it that far.

The instrumental "Onda" has fire in its belly, but is so derivative of Santana that it makes you want to rip the disc out of your player and throw on Santana's "Abraxas" album so you can hear the real thing. This takes the Waldo concept to an opposite extreme. All there is on the page is Waldo standing next to an El Camino--not too challenging.

This album asks no questions, but it tells no lies, either. Derivative and frustrating as it may be, there is a degree of sincerity that comes across. These guys clearly love what they do, but I simply can't find it in my heart to reciprocate. The influences are too transparent and the lingering aftertaste is worse than a can of Tab. After a few listens, it may be necessary to gargle with salt water and move on to something a little more compelling--say a good Los Hardy Boys mystery.


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